- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A bill introduced in the Senate would curtail wage theft in Iowa by requiring businesses to be more direct with workers about employment terms, Democrats said Tuesday.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, is co-sponsor of a measure that would require employers to share a written record of employment terms with an employee at the start of a job. Such an agreement would help the worker if there’s suspicion of wage theft in the future and the worker needs to file a formal complaint, Dotzler said.

“This legislation is common sense,” Dotzler said.

The bill would also define penalty terms and expand protection for whistleblowers. It’s identical to a bill that was introduced last session, according to Dotzler. That bill didn’t get very far, but he said he is hopeful a new legislature would seriously consider the latest measure.

Dotzler and Democratic Sen. Tony Bisignano, of Des Moines, spoke at a news conference where people shared personal stories about alleged wage theft.

“Here in Iowa, wage theft is the number one crime because there’s virtually no consequence to the employers who steal from the workers,” said Justin Banks, a former restaurant server who said his share of tips was illegally taken by management.

Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, opposes the Democrats’ bill but attended the news conference. He said the measure would overregulate many honest businesses. He plans to introduce a bill this session that would give Iowa Workforce Development more funds to investigate wage theft cases.

He said he’s interested in setting up a hotline for affected workers that would help them navigate potential fraud.

“So again, trying to put tools in place for the person that’s being disenfranchised versus trying to do this blanket,” he said.

Iowa workers lose $600 million each year to wage theft, according to a 2012 report from the Iowa Policy Project, a left-leaning research group that tracks state policy. Bertrand contests that report’s findings.

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