SAN JOSE (KCBS) – A new report is highlighting the growing problem of wage theft in Santa Clara County.

The report by the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition found that from 2012-2013, the almost 2,000 workers in Santa Clara County who filed claims with the San Jose office of the California Labor Commissioner were awarded $8.4 million in owed wages.  But only a third of employers paid their wage theft judgments.

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Charlotte Noss with Workplace Justice Initiative said wage theft occurs most often among restaurant and construction workers.

“Those two industries are particularly thriving here in Santa Clara County,” she said. “Silicon Valley wealth has led to a lot of services being needed in the county. The low wage workers that provide those services are often not adequately compensated.”

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Ruth Silver Taube, Senior Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County, said what the county should do is suspend the permits of those businesses until they pay up.

“We’re recommending the Public Health Department, the Environmental Health Services, sheriffs issue permits, there’s developmental departments that issue permits,” she said. “And if there is a finding by an administrative agency or a court judgment, that those permits be suspended.”

Among the other recommendations – to allow workers with wage theft judgments to record a wage lien with the County Recorder similar to the existing Mechanic’s Lien, to recognize responsible employers and prohibit County contracts with wage theft violators, and to convene a working group of County departments that meet quarterly to coordinate efforts to address the problem of wage theft.

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The report said that almost half of workers surveyed nationwide have experienced some form of illegal retaliation, like firing or suspension, when they complain.