Cheating workers or businesses is wrong

A bill introduced this week in the Minnesota House of Representatives would give the state more power to help workers recover wages they have earned but not been paid by their employers. The state estimates that at least 40,000 workers in Minnesota are victims of wage theft every year, at a cost to those workers of $12 million.

Among other things, the bill would give the state Department of Labor and Industry more power to subpoena records from businesses accused of wage theft. The bill also would require more record-keeping by employers.

Let us be absolutely clear: No business should ever commit wage theft. It is absolutely wrong, and in violation of a tenet that businesses claim to revere, namely sanctity of contract. This is the obligation to fulfill a contract once entered into. And it applies to labor contracts.

Workers deserve to be paid in full, and in full accordance with local, state and federal laws. Could some of those laws be detrimental to business and even unjust? Yes. But the law is the law. If businesses want to change the law, then they need to participate in democracy, speak with their representatives, let the public know what they are facing and back reforms.

That all said, we would note that every new mandate and demand put on businesses by the state and federal governments drives up the cost of doing business. Accumulated, these rules, taxes and regulations may push some business owners into a corner, where they may feel compelled to cheat the system and commit wage theft. So, to be fair, we would suggest that politicians concerned with wage theft also take an interest in profit theft. Profits, after all, are the “wages” that businesses earn.