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How workers are leading the fight against wage theft

I’ve spent my entire career advocating for workers’ rights — first as a nonprofit attorney, later in state government, and now as a grantmaker at The James Irvine Foundation. Listening has always deepened my understanding of workers’ lives and inspired me to action. 

We at Irvine also put this commitment to listening into action, commissioning an independent journalist to capture workers’ perspectives on the harmful practice of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid the full wages they have earned, resulting in loss of income and economic insecurity. Economists estimate that wage theft costs California workers eligible for minimum wage, nearly 600,000 workers annually, roughly $2 billion a year in lost wages. Wage theft affects tens of thousands of working Californians every year and is most prevalent in low-wage industries such as janitorial, agriculture, restaurant, and carwash, among others. 

Wage Theft Stories chronicles workers’ first-person accounts of wage theft, and importantly, how they are taking action to ensure their legal rights. Cesar, a carwash worker from Los Angeles, shares how he organized with other workers to take their case to the state for violations that shortened their paychecks. Juana, a farmworker in California’s Central Coast, talks about the real threat of retaliation she faced when she sought restitution for efforts to undercount her daily harvest on the farm where she worked. 

These stories, along with interviews with nonprofit and government leaders, are woven together in videos and an article at 

Ensuring California workers are afforded their basic rights is central to Irvine’s North Star — a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically — and to the many worker rights organizations we support through our Fair Work initiative. In short, we and our partners view the need for solutions to wage theft, with people like Cesar and Juana taking the lead, as a worker rights imperative.  

I invite you to check out Wage Theft Stories, share it with others, and consider how you might support greater dignity and justice for working Californians.