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CT Must Criminalize Wage Theft

If I work at McDonald’s, and I decide that the wages I earn are insufficient to meet my needs, and I begin skimming off the top of the register in the drive thru, McDonald’s can prosecute me for theft (probably sixth degree larceny). I can get convicted and ensnared in the criminal justice system.

Yet if I own a McDonald’s, and I decide that the wages my workers earn are too high to meet my profit needs, and I begin cheating them out of time – not paying them overtime, cutting time from their time cards, etc. – the workers will need two or three years to get remuneration in civil court.

In Connecticut, I, as the owner, will not face any criminal fines or sanctions for stealing time and money from my employees. But the laws allow the employer to prosecute an employee for theft.

In very few places in the United States are there criminal sanctions for wage theft. If you are really bad and force people into slavery, then yes, you can be prosecuted under codifications of the Thirteenth Amendment.

But if you are just a garden-variety exploiter stealing overtime, only in places like California, Texas and New York can you be prosecuted for intending to steal from your employees.

Connecticut should get itself in line and protect workers by allowing for prosecutions of employers who knowingly and willfully steal from their employees. I think just one prosecution of a wayward business would show we are serious and benefit thousands of workers.

Across the United States, the laws are rigged against the worker. Last week, I spent some time writing about how capitalism allows all sorts of wage theft. Then, as I pondered it more, I realized that the balance sheet was totally tipped in favor of the employer.

This concept stands particularly relevant this week, as we see a story exploding on the scene from Silicon Valley. Corporate titans at Apple, Google, Adobe and other major tech firms colluded and conspired to keep wages of more than 100,000 software engineers artificially deflated.

Wage theft writ large. Now we can’t prosecute Steve Jobs because he has met his maker. But if there is an afterlife, one hopes he is paying the price for his treatment of people, whether it’s the construction of the suicide nets at Foxconn factories in China or the conspiracy to keep wages low for American engineers.

Apple has $76 billion in cash for a reason. The greedy corporation and its bosses have been stealing from their workers. Yet we cannot prosecute them. This is grossly unfair.

The story about Apple and its tech brethren are astonishing. Pando.com has reported the story in all of its robber-baron glory. Here’s the lead sentence to its January 23, 2014 piece called “The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers wages.

Writer Mark Ames begins:

“In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt ‘got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.’

“Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information ‘verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?’”

Is this scumbaggy enough for everybody? Can we stop worshiping the ground these snakes slither on? The Obama Administration’s Department of Justice has been investigating this since 2010, and it led to a class-action suit worth, oh, about $9 billion.

Meg Whitman, former candidate for California governor in 2010, is subject to a similar piece of litigation, but from the federal and state governments. Why? When she was CEO of eBay, she conspired with Intuit (and maybe Google, too), said Pando.com, for the same thing.

Do you think if Meg Whitman won the gubernatorial race in California that she would have squashed like a bug that lawsuit against her former company? Of course. Instead, she is CEO of HP, and walks free. If these allegations are true, she should be in jail.

Steal $10 worth of toilet paper because your boss at the minimum-wage fast-food sweatshop is breaking the law and not paying you overtime, and he can fire you, prevent you from collecting unemployment, and have you arrested and subject you to the vagaries of our “justice” system.

Think a judge will listen to your explanation that the boss was stealing from you, and allow your justification when going through the elements of fourth degree larceny? Yeah.

Steal $9 billion worth of wages from 100,000 highly-trained, highly-skilled tech engineers, and you’re a capitalist hero who the world reveres. People cried when Steve Jobs died. People cried when he lived, because he treated them so damn poorly. And yet he is the hero in this backwards story.

Emails show Jobs bullying Adobe’s CEO and working with Google’s CEO and a consigliere named Bill Campbell into cheating people out of wages. Why isn’t Campbell being charged with a crime? It is downright evil.

George Lucas and his Pixar animation company were part and parcel of this scheme, too. Competitive bidding for tech engineers would hurt his profit margins. So he conspired with Jobs, too, to artificially lower prices.

Lucas is a hero, though. A Star Wars Jedi Knight, right? He really is a Vader, evil in the galaxy for treating people like profit centers. He stole some of his billions, which really should have gone to salaries, which would have generated more tax revenue, which would create a stronger civil society.

Pando.com’s Ames tied this properly into the class warfare we Americans suffer from. “Inequality of the sort we’re experiencing today affects everyone in ways we haven’t even thought of — whether it’s Jobs bullying slightly lesser executives into joining an illegal wage-theft pact, or the tens of thousands of workers whose wages were artificially lowered, transferred into higher corporate earnings, and higher compensations for those already richest and most powerful to begin with.”

We need to institute criminal sanctions for wage theft. Yet we won’t see any Senator or state Representative in this session in Connecticut come close to submitting such a bill. We need someone who will. It is time to begin to hold robber barons accountable for their misdeeds.

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