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Report: CO Employment Agency Can Mitigate Economic Inequality

Labor advocates are urging Colorado's incoming gubernatorial administration to protect workers who come forward to report violations from employer retaliation. (US Navy)
Labor advocates are urging Colorado's incoming gubernatorial administration to protect workers who come forward to report violations from employer retaliation. (US Navy)
December 13, 2018

DENVER – As Gov.-elect Jared Polis and his team prepare to take office, a new report puts a spotlight on the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and the potential for addressing economic inequality.

David Seligman, director of the legal advocacy group Towards Justice, which helped publish the report, says the agency can play a critical role ensuring that all Coloradans have a path to financial stability through work.

"It's much more than a sleepy bureaucracy,” he stresses. “This agency has the authority to issue rules to protect workers, to expand overtime, and it administers workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, some of our most important social safety nets."

The report's recommendations include modernizing rules to protect so-called gig-economy workers, and increasing protections against wage theft.

Seligman adds that boosting the current overtime salary exemption threshold from $23,000 a year to just under $54,000 could give more than 320,000 Coloradans an immediate raise.

Business groups have argued that a similar rule passed under the Obama administration would lead to job loss and fewer hours for workers.

Seligman says Colorado needs its labor agency to be proactive about enforcement, especially for employers who routinely short employee paychecks, force them to work off the clock, fail to pay the minimum wage or skirt employment laws by denying they are employees.

"Those violations are rampant, and it's especially rampant in the immigrant community,” he states. “That obviously harms our immigrant workers, it harms our economy. It also puts employers that play by the rules at an unfair disadvantage."

Colorado workers lost nearly $750 million in 2014, according to the report, because of employers who don't pay or underpay owed wages, charge illegal deductions or misclassify workers as supervisors or independent contractors.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO