Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sen. Mike Young's War On Working People

Sen. Mike Young (R-Indianapolis), a 20-year veteran of the General Assembly, has once again introduced legislation to amend Indiana’s wage payment statute to make it more difficult for employees to collect wages due them from their employer. Young’s SB 108 would provide that an employer is liable to an employee for unpaid wages at a rate of 18% per annum. It would also allow an employer to automatically deduct up to $200 from an employee’s paycheck to pay for the employee’s uniform, tools or tuition.

Anyone who practices employment law in Indiana knows too well how pro-employer Indiana’s employment laws are. One of the few pro-employee laws is the wage payment statute. It provides a hammer to encourage employers to pay wages to their employees when they are due. An employer, under current Indiana law, is subject to a 10% per day penalty for late payment of wages up to a maximum of double the amount of the wages due the employee as liquidated damages. The employer can also be required to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees if the employee has to take the employer to court to collect the unpaid wages.

It is all too common for a ruthless employer to fire a low-wage earning employee without warning, and then withhold the employee’s last pay check, claiming that the employee didn’t earn the wages, or that the employer was entitled to withhold an amount to cover amounts he claims he is owed by the employee. Indiana law does not allow an employer to withhold money from the employee’s pay check for debts owed to the employer unless he has been given permission in a writing signed by both the employer and employee, subject to a cap on the total amount that can be withheld.

If your employer beats you out of a few hundred bucks, you might conclude it’s not worth the hassle of taking him to court. But if you can get back triple the amount, plus your attorney’s fees, you might take your employer on. Many employers quickly pay up when told of the penalty provisions of the law to avoid the litigations costs and penalties. If Young’s bill were to become law, an employer would only be subject to an annual interest penalty of 18%, or 1.5% per month. That’s a risk a surly employer might be willing to take at the expense of his low-wage earning ex-employees, who has probably already added insult to injury by challenging your right to unemployment benefits, arguing that you were fired for cause.

Sen. Young’s district includes western portions of Marion County, as well as parts of Hendricks and Morgan County. The divorced father of three represents a district with many working class people, particularly in Speedway. It includes a growing number of undocumented workers from Mexico, who unscrupulous employers may find to be easy targets.

It is simply unconscionable that Sen. Young would continue to reintroduce this anti-labor bill year after year. According to his legislative biography, he claims his occupation as a political consultant. Ironically, he also claims to have been awarded the Indiana State Public Employees Legislator of the Year award in 1995. Sen. Young should give Indiana workers a rest. The only jobs many of them can find pay little more than minimum wage, with many of our best-paying jobs going elsewhere. Don’t give employers more incentive to kick people who are already down. Get a heart Sen. Young.

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