Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) is calling on Iowa Workforce Development to “do better” after a new report showed Iowa employers were stealing nearly a billion dollars per year in unpaid wages from employees.
A Common Good Iowa report from last week showed more than $900 million is stolen annually by Iowa employers not correctly paying their workers, mostly in unpaid overtime or violations of minimum wage laws.
Report author Sean Finn said wage theft “costs Iowans 10 times more than all other forms of theft combined.”
Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, said the blame was on those supposed to be enforcing wage theft laws, namely Iowa Workforce Development (IWD). She called out the organization for its paltry record of getting back wages and its low number of employees dedicated to the growing problem.
“The abundance of wage theft impacting Iowa workers demonstrates that IWD has failed to meet the urgency of this matter,” Axne wrote in an Oct. 25 open letter after the report came out. “IWD needs to do better, and it is time that Iowans get answers on how it will improve.”
Axne said in the letter she was giving Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend until Nov. 15 to respond. Two days after she sent her letter, Axne told Starting Line she hadn’t heard anything yet but would be following up if the deadline passed.
“It’s an astonishing amount of money when you think about this,” Axne said. “The biggest thing is Iowans are being shorted $300 dollars a week. It’s money in people’s pockets, money for our tax base.”
She said the problem wasn’t that employees weren’t working hard enough, but that they didn’t have the resources they needed.
“It really comes from the vision of the organization making these things priorities, so that we can put more money in people’s pockets,” Axne said.
Particularly with inflation and price hikes affecting budgets, workers needed every dime they were owed.
“The bulk of these folks are low income. It leaves those workers facing the most severe cases of wage theft, and they have the least amount of recourse,” Axne said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a Republican (state) administration that’s making that a priority.”
Besides her letter, Axne said she “certainly will make sure” to connect the US Department of Labor with Iowa Workforce Development to help streamline processes and “ensure these folks are getting their fair wages.”
“These are purely wages due to these folks that, unfortunately, corporations are sitting on and not paying out,” Axne said. “It’s time we get this money into these folks’ pockets.”
By Amie Rivers
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