Virginia Attorney General Herring vows to protect workers from wage theft

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Thousands of Virginians are being robbed of their pay, according to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

His office announced on Wednesday that it has created the first Worker Protection Unit that will focus on investigating, stopping, and prosecuting individuals and businesses who unlawfully engage in worker exploitation, in addition to educating Virginia workers on their rights.

“Everyone deserves to be paid a fair and a full wage for an honest day’s work,” Herring told WAVY.

Based on a Virginia Employment Commission audit, it’s estimated up to 214,000 workers were misclassified in 2010. That is to say, they should be considered employees, not contractors.

“If you’re working extra hours and not being paid overtime, that might be a form of wage theft,” Herring said.

That same report estimates it cost the state $28 million in 2010 because those businesses are not paying into unemployment and social security.

“It gives law-breakers an unfair advantage because their bids can come in lower than businesses that are following the rules of the law,” Herring added.

Herring told WAVY.com that weak worker protection laws have made it hard to enforce violations in the past but things are changing, he said.

“We’ve got some new laws and some new tools that will help protect workers and hold accountable those businesses that break the law.”

One of those laws protects workers from retaliation if they report violations. So, if you think you’re a victim he said, you can call his office and have no fear.

“And when we find wrongdoing put a stop to it,” he said.

The new Worker Protection Unit will be lead by a criminal prosecutor. It will also work to educate workers on their rights.

The Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters applauded the new Worker Protection Unit after Herring’s announcement.

The regional council represents over 41,000 carpenters who live and work in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Virginia leaders for far too long have boasted about how great the Commonwealth is for business, but ignored the fact that workers’ rights are always near the bottom,” said Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer William Sproule, “Attorney General Herring has taken bold action today to finally prioritize the workers of Virginia. We at the Carpenters Union applaud the formation of the Workers Protection Unit and will be offering our support and watching closely to ensure that this division assists the most vulnerable workers in Virginia and holds those accountable who steal wages.”

You can find more information about your worker classification here.

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