Local and State Business Registration Schemes: An Enforcement Lever to Strengthen Employer Compliance With Labor Standards and to Facilitate Worker Organizing

October 7, 2015

We have a wage theft epidemic in our country, especially in the low-wage labor market, where too many workers are cheated out of their fair pay. There are many factors that contribute to the wage theft epidemic, from woefully under-resourced public enforcement agencies, to inadequate anti-retaliation protections for workers who come forward to enforce their rights, to a lack of strong consequences for employer noncompliance with labor standards. Moreover, for too many workers, efforts to hold their employers accountable for wage violations turn out to be disempowering experiences, as it is common for workers to wait for years with little or no information as their wage claim languishes at a public enforcement agency, or to never collect their unpaid wages even after an employer is found liable.

To turn the tide against the wage theft crisis, the author explores the use of registrations and licenses that businesses are often required to obtain as a prerequisite of doing business as a labor standards enforcement tool, with the goal of creating strong consequences for violating wage laws and thus motivating employers to change their behavior. She also explores ways in which the business registration scheme, as an enforcement tool, could facilitate worker organizing and worker power-building by creating opportunities for meaningful participation by workers and worker organizations in the implementation and enforcement of the program. This could be done through the creation of an infrastructure called the “Business Registration Board,” which would be governed by worker, employer, and government representatives.