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Cuyahoga County passes more detailed wage theft ordinance

The Guardians for Fair Work cheered in council chambers when the ordinance passed.
Gabriel Kramer
/
Ideastream Public Media
The Guardians for Fair Work cheered in council chambers when the ordinance passed.

Cuyahoga County Council passed an ordinance Tuesday evening that will prevent the county from entering into contracts with companies with a history of wage theft.

The ordinance, which was proposed last month, is designed to discourage businesses from engaging in the illegal practice. At a minimum, it would bar them from working with the county and from taking advantage of other county benefits.

Wage theft includes paying less than minimum wage, not paying overtime wages, not allowing meal breaks and taking tips from workers.

About 20 members of the Guardians for Fair Work, a group created in 2021 that has advocated for wage theft legislation at the city and county level, showed up to the council meeting.

“The county is one of the largest economic engines here,” said Matthew Ahn, an organizer with the Guardians for Fair Work coalition. “If a corporation can’t access the programs and the benefits that the county gives out, that is a serious deterrent to wage theft.”

The ordinance amends existing county legislation that could allow the inspector general to bar companies for wage theft. Sponsoring Councilmember Dale Miller of District 2 said the county could benefit from more specific language as those types of debarments have been lacking, he said.

“It will strengthen Cuyahoga County’s economy to be known as a community where workers can rely on receiving their wages that they properly earned,” Miller said.

Eight council members voted in favor of the ordinance. District 5 Councilmember Michael Gallagher refrained from voting. District 6 Councilmember Jack Schron voted against it. Both Gallagher and Schron stated that they believed the existing measures were sufficient.

“[Wage theft] does affect families and it does affect average working people, but I do believe we already have the remedy at hand,” Gallagher said.

According to Miller, the ordinance debars any company with a history of wage theft for at least three years, at which point, the penalty would be lifted.

According to Policy Matters Ohio, about 213,000 Ohioans are victims of wage theft in a given year. Full-time employees lose an average of $2900 in a year. According to Policy Matters Ohio, that adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from workers every year.

“This is a serious epidemic really and we need to make sure that we send a strong message,” Ahn said. “If you’re going to commit wage theft, we don’t want you to take advantage of our county’s programs.”

Cleveland City Council passed a similar ordinance late last year. Ahn said the Guardians for Fair Work will continue to fight for wage theft legislation around the region.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.
Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.