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Reuters

Biden's NLRB Recovers $56 mil in 2021

NLRB also recovered 6,000jobs for illegally fired workers

Brian Young's picture
Jan 03, 2022

2021 was a big year for workers. While a lot of attention was focused on high-profile strikes, record low unemployment, and “The Great Resignation,” workers also got help from a new pro-labor National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

According to the NLRB during Fiscal Year 2021 (which ran from October 2020 to September 31, 2021) the board recuperated $56,801,407 in back wages and fines from employers. They also got 6,307 people their jobs back after they were fired for illegal reasons. The agency says these results represent a dramatic increase from Fiscal Year 2020, in which $39,389,405 total was recovered in backpay, fees, dues, and fines and 978 workers were offered reinstatement.

“Working people have experienced tumult and uncertainty during the pandemic and have productively worked together to improve their employment conditions—including seeking appropriate compensation, schedules, and workplace protections while performing essential services. Our dedicated staff at the NLRB helped to protect, enforce and remedy violations affecting thousands of workers who were retaliated against for engaging in this sort of activity,” said General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “Workers should know they have the right to act collectively to improve their workplace conditions, and the NLRB will forcefully defend their right to do so by seeking full make-whole remedies for them.”

A new study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that from 2017 to 2020, $3.24 billion in stolen wages have been recovered by the U.S. Department of Labor, state agencies, and class action litigation. This includes wages from employers who failed to pay overtime or a minimum wage, off-the-clock violations, misclassification violations, tipped minimum wage violations, and mealtime violations, as well as taking illegal deductions. While this number might look large, it is just a small fraction of the wages stolen in a given year.

According to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), they estimate that in 2019 alone, $9.27 billion was stolen just from workers who earned less than $13 an hour and who were subject to forced arbitration agreements. About 26% of the American workforce works under a forced arbitration agreement that prohibits employees from suing their employer or pursuing a class-action lawsuit. Instead, workers are forced to pursue claims and disputes through arbitration—a secretive process that heavily favors employers. Many of these workers never bother to file a claim over stolen wages since they believe the system is set up to protect the employer, not the worker. While wage theft occurs in other workplaces and in higher-wage jobs as well, it is found to be the most pronounced among low-wage workers. Of course, these are also the people who need every cent they get from work and usually don’t have the resources to fight their employer over stolen wages.

The United States government, state government, and workers have a few tools for going after back and stolen wages. According to the NLRB, “The Agency does have the authority to seek make-whole remedies, such as reinstatement, back pay, and consequential damages for discharged workers. Recently, the General Counsel issued a memorandum to all Regions advising them to seek a variety of remedies to ensure that victims of unlawful conduct under the National Labor Relations Act are truly made whole for losses they have suffered.”

The US Wage and Hour Division, within the United States Department of Labor, also has the ability to investigate cases of stolen or unpaid wages. Some areas that they are able to investigate include violations of federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, states have their own versions of the wage and hour division that can investigate claims of wage theft that violate state laws.

Additionally, workers can file a class-action lawsuit against their employer to attempt to recover the stolen wages. According to a 2021 analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, class action settlements recovered the most wages for employees over these years. The value of the top 10 wage and hour class action settlements totaled $525 million in 2017, $253.5 million in 2018, $449 million in 2019, and $294.6 million in 2020, for a total of $1.5 billion during this period. This is also part of the reason why companies have forced workers to sign forced arbitration agreements that prevent these types of class action cases.

Under the Trump administration, the Department of Labor saw cuts to their budget, the Wage and Hour Division lost about 14% of their workforce. This makes it much more difficult to investigate these cases as they often rely on investigators going to workplaces to talk to the workers and employers about what occurred. As UCOMM previously reported, President Biden has proposed increasing the Department of Labor’s budget by 17% to allow for more investigators to be hired.

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