E.g., 06/20/2024
E.g., 06/20/2024
Strategic Leverage: Use of State and Local Laws to Enforce Labor Standards in Immigrant-Dense Occupations
March 2018

Strategic Leverage: Use of State and Local Laws to Enforce Labor Standards in Immigrant-Dense Occupations

Immigrants, who account for 17 percent of the U.S. labor force, are twice as likely as native-born workers to be employed in an industry where violations of core labor standards are widespread. These wage-and-hour and safety-and-health law violations can often be traced back to the changing nature of the relationship between low-wage workers and the companies that employ them. For example, the practice of misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” rather than employees—and thus removing them from the protection of many workplace laws and enabling companies to sidestep payroll taxes, unemployment insurance contributions, and workers’ compensation requirements—is common in low-wage industries from construction to transportation.

It has long been difficult to push back against these practices, which hurt native-born and immigrant workers alike, deprive states of tax revenue, and disadvantage law-abiding employers. And at a time when labor standards violations are increasingly widespread and the federal government has stepped back from workplace regulation, state and local efforts are a natural fit to fill the vacuum.

This report examines how states and localities across the country—both red and blue, with and without a long history of labor-protection regimes—are developing innovative strategies to enforce labor standards, and to do so more strategically. Many of these approaches leverage unique state and local powers and access to data to target enforcement efforts, change employer behavior, and make the most of scarce resources. Others bring together multiple agencies and levels of government, combining their powers in task forces.

Together, these strategies offer a valuable set of tools and lessons learned, particularly for policymakers in states that have recently become destinations for immigrants and those facing budget cuts.  

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Immigrants and the Low-Wage Workplace

A. Scope of Misclassification and Labor Violations in Immigrant-Dense Industries

B. The Limitations of Private Stakeholder Efforts to Counter Violations

C. Private Stakeholders Have Little Incentive to Target Illegal Practices

III. The Case for State and Local Workplace Enforcement

A. The Deregulatory Shift and Limited Reach of Federal Enforcement

B. The Role of State and Local Enforcement

IV. Promising State Enforcement Strategies

A. Tapping into State Police Powers and Regulatory Authority

B. Data-Driven Targeting for Audits and Investigations

C. Increased Use of Criminal Statutes to Prosecute Labor Crimes

D. Public-Private Partnerships

E. Inter-Agency Coordination

V. Recommendations

A. Maximizing the Use of State and Local Administrative Powers

B. Leveraging Data to Target Payroll Fraud and Wage-and-Hour Violations

C. Using Criminal Prosecution to Enforce Labor and Safety Standards and Payroll Fraud

D. Strengthening Private Stakeholder Engagement in Public Enforcement

E. Building Cooperation between State Agencies and between State, Local, and Federal Governments