Advocates fight for Wage Recovery Program funding

VIDEO: Advocates fight for Wage Recovery Program funding

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A program that assists employees in recovering wages that are illegally withheld from them could run out of funding at the end of the month.

Program advocates were at the Charleston County Council meeting on Tuesday night asking for permanent funding. The council decided to defer a decision on funding until a later time.

Last year Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) advocated for funding of a Wage Recovery Program and it was able to secure about $144,000 from Charleston County to help with wage theft cases.

CAJM is a network of 30 congregations that come together to address community problems.

The organization was able to collaborate with South Carolina Legal Services which hired a full-time attorney and part-time paralegal to work exclusively on wage theft cases.

Co-President of CAJM,Charles Heyward, was at the Council Meeting along with several others.

"A young man works in a supermarket in between him filling out his time card and his time card getting to personnel, somebody in between that process changed his time card so he got paid for less hours," Heyward said.

That's just one of many cases of wage theft. Heyward also talked about how some employers hold worker's checks when funds are tight, some people don't get paid overtime and others don't get paid at all.

Team Leader LuAnn Rosenzweig is also part of CAMJ.

"We are stepping in to advocate for those employees that don't have a voice for themselves," Rosenzweig said.

The Wage Recovery Program is helpful for clients who don't have money for a lawyer. The program has served 63 families with wage theft cases and 23 cases are pending at this time. More than $7,000 of wages have been recovered.

Charleston Area Justice Ministry representatives say the work the program does goes beyond that. There have been more than 200 outreach events on behalf of the Wage Recovery Program to inform the community about their services and worker's rights. There are some cases where employers are able to take the information they learn from the outreach sessions to address their concerns with employers on their own and wages are restored.

"We have been working with county council since April," Rosenzweig said. "It keeps getting differed and talked about and no action."

In addition, when an employee's losses are substantial they can be referred out of the Wage Recovery Program to get additional help. This has happened several times. A CAJM representative says one client recovered more than $6,000 from wage through a private lawyer, but when this happens the worker has to pay a portion of that money for the lawyer's services.

"We will continue to ask county council to find a way to put this into permanent funding," Heyward said "This is too valuable to the workers of our county."

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