American Politics & Public Policy Workshop: Daniel Galvin, “Wage Theft, Public Policy, and the Politics of Workers’ Rights”
“Wage Theft, Public Policy, and the Politics of Workers’ Rights”
Guest Speaker: Daniel J. Galvin, Associate Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
Synopsis: There has always been a great imbalance between the prerogatives of employers, on one hand, and the rights of employees on the other. But as private sector unions have declined and government agencies have grown increasingly overburdened and under-resourced, this power asymmetry in the workplace appears to have widened, with workers becoming increasingly vulnerable to abuses and labor law violations. One especially troubling manifestation of this is the practice of wage theft—in particular, the failure to pay the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects our most vulnerable workers in low-wage industries.
Existing scholarship suggests that employer noncompliance with the minimum wage is an economic phenomenon that varies with economic conditions and is shaped primarily by industry and employer characteristics. The government-imposed costs of noncompliance are assumed to be effectively equal to zero, thus leaving little room for politics or public policy to make a difference. Subjecting this assumption to empirical tests, this study finds that public policy can, in fact, serve as an effective deterrent against wage theft, but that the structure of the penalty scheme matters a great deal.
These findings have implications for debates over widening income inequality, the challenges facing the “working poor,” and the politics of workers’ rights in a postindustrial age.
Daniel J. Galvin is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. His current research examines the politics of wage theft, party adaptation in the Rust Belt, and presidential politics in American political development. He is the author of Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and co-editor of Rethinking Political Institutions: The Art of the State. He received his PhD from Yale University in 2006.