The names of Colorado businesses caught stealing workers’ wages will no longer be kept confidential under the guise of protecting “trade secrets.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last week signed the bipartisan Wage Theft Transparency Act, which states that a violation of wage theft laws by a Colorado business is considered “public record,” and can be disclosed without endangering trade secrets unless the director of the division of labor determines otherwise.
State officials say there were 274 wage theft violations last year, the Associated Press reported. In 2014, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that $750 million in “wage nonpayment” is stolen from workers in Colorado annually, resulting in up to $47 million in lost tax revenue for the state.
But these violations, along with employers’ payrolls and other records, were not released to the public.
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Keeping wage theft violations secret protects businesses from public scrutiny, denying both consumers and prospective employees the right to know if a business is playing by the rules—giving these businesses an unfair advantage over enterprises that follow the law, say backers of the new wage theft measure.
“We can’t solve the problem until we can identify it,” state Rep. Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), the bill’s house sponsor, told the Colorado Independent, adding that the new law “puts all businesses on the same playing field.”
Danielson revived the wage theft transparency measure after it died in the legislature last year, convincing state Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley), to be the bill’s sponsor in the Republican-controlled state senate. It passed both chambers this year with overwhelming majorities.
Workers rights groups have pointed to some states, including New Mexico, as taking a lax approach to enforcing wage theft laws. Research has shown that rampant wage theft has taken millions out of workers’ pockets, especially those who work for low incomes. Women and people of color were most likely to be victims of wage theft, according to a 2014 U.S. Department of Labor report.