It’s a job seeker’s market, but low-wage earners aren’t always seeing the same gains

Despite the current labor shortage, a nonprofit organization says many low-wage earners in the workplace are being taken advantage of.
Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 4:17 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 18, 2022 at 10:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite the current labor shortage, a nonprofit organization says many low-wage earners in the workplace are being taken advantage of and are victims of wage theft and discrimination.

Luckwood Jack says he was contracted by KBS Cleaners to clean a store at the Waikele Premium Outlets, but quit after a month when he noticed he was only getting paid about half what he was owed.

He says he never received a pay stub ― just direct deposits.

Jack is Marshallese. Through a translator, he explained to HNN that he worked six hours a day and kept a detailed log of his hours for his employer.

But at $15 an hour, his pay deposits didn’t match the number of hours he was working.

Jack’s church referred him to the Hawaii Workers Center, a nonprofit that advocates for low-wage workers.

Co-Executive Director Yoko Liriano calls Jack’s case “wage theft” and says he’s not the only client she’s helped with that issue.

Liriano says she contacted Jack’s employer to request pay records so they could file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Liriano added that many workers don’t complain for fear of losing their jobs – and are almost held hostage in a situation not knowing what to do.

“Luckwood was in a place that he had quit because of this situation. And so the fear factor wasn’t there anymore. So he was able to be brave and courageous and come forward for those who could not,” Liriano said.

Jack says he was sad his pay couldn’t cover his basic needs.

“Especially in the Micronesian community, it’s almost life and death right when you are shortchanged a certain amount,” Liriano said. “We have found different red flags around labor issues in the community from wages, unpaid overtime, lower than minimum wage cases.”

To resolve issues, the Hawaii Workers Center works with employers and the state.

Within a few days of contacting KBS Cleaners, Liriano said Jack received his back pay.

“What a great victory that we didn’t even have to go through a bureaucratic process. But that’s an individual victory,” Liriano said. “There are so many other people being affected or being exploited in this way because they don’t have a personal advocate for them and are not getting what they’re due.”

Jack now has a new job. He says he’s grateful for Liriano’s help and urges others to know what their rights are.

Anyone having issues with unpaid wages, Illegal deductions, work injury termination and more can contact the DLIR’s Wage Standards Division, which investigates complaints into alleged violations.

Visit these pages for more information:

You can reach the Hawaii Workers Center at (503) WORKERS or (503) 967-5377 and at hiworkerscenter@gmail.com.

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