Kim Bobo’s book, Wage Theft in America (2009) was the inspiration for starting a workers center in Columbus. Kim Bobo founded the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues and is well-known for her organizing and advocacy for a living wage and workers rights that currently has expanded into the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) with affiliates throughout the U.S. Wage theft is a term created by the IWJ Worker Center Network. Their website identifies this as their number one issue their worker centers are focused on. They do this by holding employers responsible and advocating for new anti-wage theft laws at the state and local level.
  The emergence of the Central Ohio Worker Center was a truly collaborative effort that included workers and allies in Columbus resulting from the need of an entity to represent low-wage workers. For the past three years, a network of community organizations, unions, students, workers and immigrant rights activists came together under the banner of “Central Ohio Workers” initially to commemorate May Day – International Workers’ Day. Through coming together to celebrate the collective strength of workers, this group started talking about establishing an organization that not only celebrates workers, but also supports and represents them. The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio became interested in affiliating with Interfaith Worker Justice and starting meeting with Central Ohio Workers in the fall of 2013, resulting in the formation of the Central Ohio Worker Center (COWC). COWC made a lot of progress in the last year. COWC is now a 501c3 nonprofit organization and will soon apply for affiliation with IWJ. The mission of our organization is to provide a structure to support, advocate and empower people in central Ohio to address problems of poverty, workplace rights and equity, racial inequality, gender discrimination, immigrant justice and other social and economic issues. The Center will empower low-income and immigrant workers in central Ohio to combat the very real problems of wage theft and exploitation of vulnerable workers in central Ohio.
  Central Ohio Workers Center provides a bilingual “hotline” contact for immigration and employment issues with referral services for individual case advocacy when possible and appropriate. COWC organized two Know Your Rights workshops (one on immigration rights and one on employment) this past October. The workshops were presented by third year students from Moritz College of Law at OSU and English/Spanish translation was provided. The discussion was lively and clearly demonstrated that these issues need to be addressed on an individual and societal level in Central Ohio. COWC is planning to repeat these workshops in November. Other potential workshops could include issues of worker health and safety, wage theft, and immigration reform.
  Professor Amna Akbar, who supervised the Moritz clinic students on the KYR workshops stated: “The initiative to start a workers’ center in Columbus is incredibly important—there are too many immigrants working for too little pay, with too few protections, in our communities. The workers’ center will provide a space for immigrant workers to come together to generate creative solutions and build their collective power to change our city for the better.”
  COWC's current priority is recruiting worker contacts and from this pool, a board will be established to direct the activities of the organization. The goal is to have a board with at least half of the membership consisting of workers who are at or below 200 percent of the poverty level to direct the activities of the center. This is a standard for all IWJ centers.

Wage Theft in America cites surveys documenting that:

  • 60 percent of nursing homes stole workers’ wages,

  • 89 percent of non-monitored garment factories in Los Angeles and 67 percent of non-monitored garment factories in New York City stole workers’ wages,

  • 25 percent of tomato producers, 35 percent of lettuce producers, and 62 percent of garlic producers hiring farm workers stole workers’ wages,

  • 78 percent of restaurants in New Orleans stole workers’ wages,

  • Almost half of day laborers, especially in construction work, have had their wages stolen,

  • 100 percent of poultry plants steal workers’ wages.
      The situation is growing worse. A recent article quoted David Weil, the director of the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division, who says wage theft is surging because of underlying changes in the nation’s business structure. The increased use of franchise operators, subcontractors and temp agencies leads to more employers being squeezed on costs and more cutting corners, he said. A result, he added, is that the companies on top can deny any knowledge of wage violations. His agency has uncovered nearly $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages since 2010. He noted that the victimized workers were disproportionately immigrants. Cases involving Fedex, McDonald’s, Walmart and Doubletree hotels were cited in the article. (More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’ by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, August 31, 2014.)

  We have many people to thank for helping the COWC get started – now we need a community to help shape the future of this new organization. We invite you to find out more and get involved by contacting Central Ohio Worker Center - Centro de Trabajadores de Central Ohio 614-589-0732




Our mission is to support, advocate for and empower people in Central Ohio to address problems of poverty, workplace rights and equity, racial inequality, gender discrimination, immigration justice and other social and economic issues.

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