Photo Source: Office of Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo

Empowering Workers: Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo Takes on Wage Theft


Mar 26, 2024 - To prevent the exploitation of labor and to protect the well-being of workers, Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo (D-AD40) has successfully advanced AB 2135 through its first step in the legislative process resulting in approval by the Labor Committee. This legislation is aimed at stopping wage theft which is a major stride towards safeguarding employees’ lives in California.


Wage theft remains a huge issue affecting vulnerable workers disproportionately who often have no means to fight their bosses. For a long time, fear of retribution, lack of proper documentation, and lengthy complaint procedures formed significant barriers to justice itself. To overcome these challenges, AB 2135 aims at increasing statute limitations for investigations permitting the Labor Commissioner’s office adequate time to address all complaints brought before them.


Assemblywoman Schiavo made the following statement to address the urgency of addressing wage theft: "Introducing AB 2135 is a step towards dismantling the bureaucratic hurdles that have historically impeded workers from receiving their rightful wages. When cases of wage theft go unresolved, it is the workers who bear the brunt, while unscrupulous employers continue to exploit vulnerable laborers. Our aim is to empower employees and provide them with the necessary support to report injustices."


The alarming numbers accentuate the necessity for laws that take action. In just one year –2020 – almost two thousand cases were reported concerning wage theft within the scope of public works projects but with many being dismissed as soon as statutes expired. By acting like this not only do system inefficiencies deny employees their lawful earnings but also sustain exploitative practices and unfairness.


In 2021, California employees sought a mere $320 million in civil restitution for unpaid wages, a fraction of the estimated $2 billion paid by unscrupulous employers annually. This figure, published in a 2017 study by the Public Policy Institute, sheds light on the pervasive nature of wage theft and its devastating impact on the state's workforce.


The study's findings paint a grim picture of both the prevalence and outcomes of minimum wage violations across the country. In the 10 most populous states, including California, approximately 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage each year. This is estimated to cost over $8 billion annually, with an average shortfall of $64 per week per affected worker.


Wage theft, a serious issue affecting countless workers in California, continues to undermine the financial stability and well-being of individuals and families across the state. Despite legislative efforts such as Assembly Bill 1003, which reclassified instances of wage theft exceeding $950 as a grand theft, the scale of the issue remains enormous.


Notably, wage theft disproportionately affects vulnerable demographics, including young workers, women, people of color, and immigrant workers. However, it is essential to recognize that low-wage workers across all demographic groups experience minimum wage violations at extremely high rates. The majority of workers with reported wages below the minimum wage are over 25, native-born U.S. citizens, and work full-time.


As AB 2135 progresses through the legislative process, Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo has declared that she has an unwavering commitment to safeguarding workers' rights in AD40 and California.