Wage Theft as Crime: An Institutional View
16 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2020 Last revised: 26 Sep 2021
Date Written: March 21, 2020
This essay argues that criminalizing “wage theft” fulfills a movement demand. However, because criminal law has historically been used by employers and governments against workers, using it for the cause of workers requires careful deliberation. Moreover, as the prison abolition movement has correctly noted, the United States over-imprisons its own citizens, mostly out of racial animosities and biases, so any use of the criminal justice system to protect workers appears anathema. Nevertheless, this essay argues for wage theft criminalization, but only as long as it is accompanied by the creation of specialized prosecutors and police who handle work law matters exclusively, collaborate with the traditional labor and employment law agencies, and cooperate with workers and their advocates to investigate and prosecute wage theft cases. The need to criminalize wage theft, as well as how to do it, is thus an institutional question.
Keywords: wage theft, theft of services, prison abolition, employment law, labor law
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