Persistent and Widespread Wage Theft, Weak Enforcement Harming Low-Income Texans
Wednesday, Aug 09, 2023

Image of Workers Defense Project logoAUSTIN, Texas – More than 3.2 million Texans have experienced minimum wage violations since 2009, according to a comprehensive new study released today by the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University in partnership with the Workers Defense Project. The Texas Workforce Commission has ordered employers to pay nearly $99 million in back wages to workers, but 80% of that money remains unpaid. More than 39,000 Texans, including many women and immigrants, have not seen a dime of what they are owed.

“Stopping wage theft requires strong enforcement,” said Jenn Round, director of the labor standards enforcement program for the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University. “Unfortunately, our findings demonstrate that the Texas Workforce Commission has failed to recover tens of millions of dollars, allowing non-compliant employers to violate workers’ rights with impunity. This inaction leaves low-wage workers vulnerable to exploitation and puts compliant employers at a disadvantage.”

The current minimum wage of $7.25 took effect in 2009. Using that year as a starting point, researchers Daniel Galvin, Jake Barnes, Janice Fine, and Round analyzed federal data to estimate the number of workers who have been paid below the minimum wage. They found:

  • About 3% of all workers and 11% of low-wage workers have suffered a minimum wage violation since 2009, totaling more than 3.2 million people statewide.
  • The average victim loses 29% of their income, or nearly $4,000, per year. Texans have lost a combined $12 billion to wage theft since 2009.
  • Restaurant servers reported the largest number of minimum wage violations (18%), followed by teacher assistants (11%), housecleaners (11%), and childcare workers (8%).
  • Employers are 67% more likely to cheat women than men and 68% more likely to cheat undocumented workers than citizens. Latinos face the highest risk of wage theft overall.
  • Four of the five regions with the most violations sit along the border: Laredo (7%), McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (6%), Brownsville-Harlingen (4%), and El Paso (4%).

The Texas Payday Law is supposed to protect workers from wage theft, but the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has fallen behind on enforcement. Rutgers researchers analyzed 136,420 claims filed over an 11-year period. They found:

  • The TWC ordered employers to pay nearly $99 million in back wages between 2009 and 2020. Today, 80% of that money – more than $78 million – remains unpaid.
  • More than 39,000 claimants have not received any of the money they’re owed, yet nearly 17,000 of these claims are marked as being “closed” and “paid in full.”

“It is TWC's job to prevent and enforce wage theft, but instead, it's continued to fail workers,” said Andrea Nicholls, Better Builder® Director. “Out of necessity, the Workers Defense Project came up with a response to this failed system: the Better Builder® Program, which advocates for safe, good jobs in the construction industry. The program has impacted over 45,000 workers and is steadily becoming a baseline standard for the construction industry. While Better Builder® is working hard to fill the gaps in worker protections, the State needs to uphold their end of the deal to protect all workers across Texas.”

“I've been a construction worker for nearly seven years,” said Oscar Torres, a Dallas construction worker and Workers Defense Project worker-member. “In that time, I've been a victim of wage theft six times. Even though I haven't recovered a cent of my stolen wages, even in the cases that I won, I am speaking out to use my cases as an example of the wage theft crisis in the Texas construction industry and the failure of our legal system to resolve it.”

“I’m sharing my story to build awareness of the high percentage of domestic workers who experience wage theft in Texas,” said Geovanna Balderas, an Austin domestic worker representing MISMA, a group of immigrant women, domestic workers, mothers, and sisters in Texas, that offers educational programming and empowerment workshops through Casa Marianella. “I hope my story inspires those with power to make much-needed change and address the wage theft crisis that permeates a variety of Texas industries and impacts thousands of working-class Texans.”

“Three years ago, at the WeDiB Organizing Institute in Houston, I learned about the dark reality of wage theft and the fact that I was a victim of it,” said Rivi Mitchell, National Domestic Worker Alliance We Dream in Black Houston Member. “With the newfound knowledge about wage theft, I confronted my employer about the issue. Through my determination, we took steps to address the problem, leading to hiring a payroll company and recovering my rightful back wages. This journey has taught me that education and speaking up are powerful tools to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.”

“As a Black immigrant worker, I've had to endure the bitter taste of wage theft. It's a harsh reality that hits domestic workers hard,” said Bonnie Okoth, National Domestic Worker Alliance We Dream in Black Houston Member. “The choice to stand up for my rightful payment was never easy, especially considering the precariousness of my status here. But through the National Domestic Workers Alliance and We Dream in Black, I've learned that my worth and dignity are non-negotiable, regardless of the challenges. Every step I take to demand what's rightfully mine is a testament to the strength that comes from within when faced with adversity.”

“The systemic prevalence of wage theft in Texas ultimately costs all of us regardless of what we look like or where we work,” said Amanda Posson, Senior Policy Analyst – Worker Power, Every Texan. “Texas’ lawmakers must enact policies that protect all workers from wage theft and ensure workers and their families are able to recover their stolen wages. This includes adequately funding and staffing the Texas Workforce Commission to ensure workers and families get their hard-earned wages.”

Press Contacts

Steve Flamisch
Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations
848.252.9011 (cell)

Christine Bolaños
Workers Defense Project
512.466.9258 (office),

About Us

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships.

The Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University (wjl@RU) exists to address economic inequality through supporting and strengthening grassroots organizing and democratic governance. We do this through building dynamic communities of learning and practice, carrying out cutting edge research, and offering specialized training and in-depth one-on-one consultations.

Workers Defense Project is a statewide, membership-based organization that empowers low-income workers to achieve fair employment through education, direct services, organizing, and strategic partnerships.