Protesters Demand Wage Theft Protection - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Protesters Demand Wage Theft Protection

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Iowa state law says employers must pay their employees all wages that they earn, but what happens when a corporation hires a contractor, and that middleman doesn't pay the employee? That happened to a woman in Iowa City. One local group is trying to make sure it doesn't happen again, and some lawmakers feel this is a larger issue that needs to be further discussed.

"Wage theft is a crime," protesters chanted outside of Outback Steakhouse in Davenport. "Pay your workers for their time."

There were four demonstrations at Outback Steakhouses across Iowa Wednesday evening.

"I want to follow the golden rule," protester Maria Dickmann said. "If my wages were being stolen, basically, I would want other people to pay attention."

The case stems from the Iowa City location, which hired a contractor, Sandpiper Maintenance and Repair, to hire cleaners for their restaurant. The contractor allegedly did not pay one cleaner for almost 50 days of work, totaling just above $2,000.

"That is like pocket change for Outback," said Komi Hodonou, who came across the protest on his way to another appointment.

Outback has since fired the contractor, but the woman still hasn't gotten paid. Representatives with Outback say it's not their responsibility, issuing a statement that said, "Outback contracted with Sandpiper Maintenance & Repair for cleaning services and paid for the services we received. Sandpiper should be held accountable for failure to pay their employee. While we cannot control another company's business practices, we can choose to no longer use that company - which is what we've done. We have also alerted the U.S. Department of Labor Wage Hour Division in Des Moines about this situation and are providing any assistance we can to help them locate Sandpiper."

Randy Donnelly from the Quad City Federation of Labor says it Outback's responsibility to pay the woman.

"They're a corporation, and they should take full responsibility," he said. "They should have checked out Sandpiper before they hired them."

What happens when contractors don't pay employees is not addressed under Iowa's wage payment collection law. State Senator Rita Hart says that could change.

"I think that it's worth looking into to see whether we have enough protection built into our laws so that people are being treated fairly," she said.

This year, the Senate passed a bill that would change current law from placing the burden of proof of underpayment on the employee to the employer. It did not make it to legislature, but she says they plan to bring it up again in January 2015, which would possibly include more details that could protect employees working under contractors.

"What we could do to make sure that individuals are covered as in this case, I think we would have to certainly take a look," St. Sen. Hart said.

The Outback Steakhouse in Iowa City, where the individual worked has since closed. Protesters say this did not have to do with the case. Rather, they say the restaurant had already planned to do so.

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