Catholic legislators on both sides of the aisle are considering a new state bill that provides a type of mediation for workers with wage complaints.
Similar bills proposed in previous legislative sessions failed, but the new Wage Protection Act seeks to aid thousands of workers with owed wages through a new state division.
Among its supporters are Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams, and Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, who support the act’s creation of a wage complaint division overseen by the state Department of Labor and Employment.
Currently, the state department receives 30,000 calls a year related to wage claims, some 5,200 of which are related to wage theft, according to Ulibarri.
Citizens have the option to take their complaint to small claims court. Yet this process is unfamiliar and perhaps time-consuming for the general public, he said.
The act would create a process for workers to call the department and have an assigned investigator look into a wage complaint under $7,500. Employers would receive notice and have 14 days to respond.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has a neutral stance on the bill and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver supports it.
In January, Colorado Catholic Conference executive director Jenny Kraska testified for the bill saying it will ensure all workers are paid the wages legally owed to them.
“The biggest group of people it affects is immigrants, especially undocumented workers because they’re not getting paid what they’re owed,” Kraska said. “It happens in lots of other communities as well.”
She said the Church believes it’s “incumbent on all of society to return the human person to the center of economic life; one way that the Colorado Legislature can do this is to ensure that all workers receive the wages that they are due.
“Unfortunately, many workers in Colorado today are denied this respect and dignity due to wage theft,” Kraska said.
Pope Francis addressed this dignity during a May 2013 audience, on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. He said, “work is fundamental to the dignity of a person … it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family and to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.”
The bill passed the Senate Finance Committee in February and will be considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee.