Wage Theft

Since our founding, CIWC has won back more than $750,000 in stolen wages.

Stop Wage Theft video.


Wage theft impacts families, communities and local economies.  Low-wage and immigrant workers are frequently victims of wage theft—being paid less than the minimum wage, being shorted hours, being forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime, or not being paid at all are pervasive practices across many industries.  That is when an employer fails to pay in whole or part the wages legally due a worker.

Stolen wages result in economic hardship for workers and their families. Missing a paycheck can have dramatic consequences, as workers may be forced to incur high-cost loans or forgo paying bills like rent, utilities, and car payments, which can turn a precarious financial situation into a disastrous one for a family. While immigrants are especially vulnerable, it is our experience that wage theft affects all races, many industries, and especially low-wage earners who can least afford to “work for free” as one victim recently said. A disastrous financial situation might involve reliance, or additional reliance, on public assistance or even the possibility of homelessness.

A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) of nearly 4,500 low-wage workers in three cities found that more than 60 percent of low-wage workers have some pay illegally withheld by their employer each week, equivalent to $2,634 per year, on average, in unpaid wages

Of the 132,000 people employed in Cincinnati in 2012, according to Census data, 33,000 (25%) earned a median wage of $10 per hour or less, according to our analysis of data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. While $12 per hour would be a better criterion of “low-wage,” the employment data could not be segmented in that fashion.

By applying the findings of the NELP study—that 60 percent of low-wage workers have some pay illegally withheld by their employer each week, equivalent to $2,634 per year, on average, in unpaid wages—then unpaid wages in Cincinnati would amount to 60% of 33,000 x $2,634, which is $52 million per year. This is a working estimate that we would like to see validated by others.  $52 million in earned but unpaid wages represents a significant need, especially in a City where, according to the Census Bureau, 34% of all residents (53% of children) live below the poverty line.

Wage Theft Ordinances as Coordinated National Effort

State and local governments have responded to the problem of wage theft legislatively including California and New York; the cities of Chicago, Houston, Grand Rapids, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.; and the counties of Alachua, Broward, and Miami-Dade in Florida. Many of these locations have worker centers who are a part of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ). As an affiliate of IWJ, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (CIWC) is part of a network of 27 worker centers across the country which serve more than 16,000 workers each year. IWJ affiliates such as Fe Y Justicia in Houston, the Micah Center in Grand Rapids, and Southwest Florida IWJ in Miami have all successfully passed wage theft ordinances in their communities. IWJ provides access to best practices and research to support a coordinated effort to pass wage theft ordinances throughout the nation.  

Our Track Record and Strategic Focus

Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (CIWC) educates, empowers, and mobilizes low wage and immigrant workers to achieve positive systemic change.  Its 135 members pursue this mission through a Worker Justice committee and an Immigrant Rights committee.  Assisting low-wage and immigrant workers in a timely and favorable resolution of wage theft incidents has been a core program of CIWC since its founding in 2005. Most of our work involves individual employees or small groups of employees with the same employer. CIWC has won back more than $750,000 in stolen wages.

Members of the Worker Justice committee decided in January 2014 that its strategic focus would be adoption by the City of Cincinnati of a wage theft ordinance. Members of the committee found the problem of wage theft to be so pervasive and harmful that it deserved to be addressed in a more systemic way.   The CIWC Wage Theft program also holds opportunities including, for example, improving the business climate for ethical businesses.

What are some faith views of wage theft?


“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” The New Testament, James 5:4 (English Standard Version)


“And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due” (Quran 11:85). Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, also said, “I will be the opponent of three types of people on the Day of Judgment,” and he listed one of them as “one who hires a worker, but does not pay him his right wages owed to him after fulfilling his work.” (Bukhari collection, prepared by Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.)


“Do not oppress the hired laborer, who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.” The Old Testament, Deuteronomy 24:14-15