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Cuyahoga County may no longer work with companies with a history of wage theft

Cuyahoga County SEAL.jpg
Ideastream Public Media
Cuyahoga County SEAL.jpg

Cuyahoga County Council is bringing forth legislation that would bar the county from entering into contracts with companies that have committed wage theft.

The goal of the ordinance, which will be proposed at Tuesday night’s meeting, is to further prevent businesses from engaging in the illegal practice. That includes paying less than minimum wage, not paying overtime, not allowing meal breaks and taking workers’ tips.

“This is essentially just saying we’re not going to use public dollars to lead the race to the bottom in terms of labor standards,” said Nora Kelley, an organizer for the Guardians for Fair Work and Northeast Ohio Worker Center.

Each year, approximately a quarter of a million of Ohioans experience wage theft. On average, victims lose $2,900 over the course of a year. In a city like Cleveland, which has a median household income of just over $30,000, those losses can be "very significant," Kelley said.

The proposal comes several months after Cleveland City Council passed a similar law prohibiting the city from working with any person or entity that has engaged in wage theft.

“We were behind, quite frankly,” Kelley said, citing Cincinnati and Columbus’s passage of a similar measure in 2016 and 2020. “But we were the beneficiary of lessons learned in the cities that have already put these policies in place.”

If approved, the ordinance would debar any company with a history of wage theft for three years, at which point, the penalty would be lifted. If there aren’t further violations, Miller said they would be eligible to enter into contracts again with the county.

This would add to the list of existing grounds for debarment with the county, including poor work performance and failing to pay property taxes, Miller said.

The Guardians for Fair Work called upon supporters to pack the County Council chambers on Tuesday evening to encourage passage of the legislation. Miller said he hopes to approve the piece before council’s August recess.

Kelley said she and other labor activist groups will work with the county to launch an education campaign to inform workers of their rights. One of the only ways wage theft is identified is by employees reporting their experiences.

“We see this as an important first step in a broader shift toward workers' rights,” Kelley said.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.