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Officials say partnership with US Department of Labor will give Columbus tools to combat wage theft

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Columbus has a new way to combat wage theft after signing a memorandum of understanding Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The agreement gives the city access to the department’s public enforcement database.

"This MOU will give the City of Columbus access to the department of labor's full public enforcement database which will allow our wage theft commission to work a lot more efficiently to make sure our law is fully implemented,” said Columbus City Councilman Rob Dorans.

The Columbus Wage Theft Prevention and Enforcement Commission and representatives from the Department of Labor signed the agreement.

Matthew Utley, District Director for the Dept. of Labor, said the partnership will “allow our organizations to better serve the people of Ohio by strengthening our outreach and enforcement efforts.”

Employers steal wages from more than 200,000 employees in Ohio every year, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The members said this agreement is the first of its kind and promotes greater coordination between federal, state and city efforts to protect workers.

“This agreement is the first of its kind between the Department and a municipality,” according to a news release from the city. “It aims to bring violators into compliance and ensure victims are compensated fairly. The parties will accomplish this through enforcement activities, staff cross-training and public education.”

Dorans said Columbus is “leading the nation” in anti-wage theft measures. “This historic cooperation between the city and the federal Department of Labor ensures we are able to better protect workers and make sure they're fully paid what they're rightfully owed,” Dorans said.

He praised city council’s 2020 passage of an ordinance creating the wage theft commission.

"This law has never been about punishing employers, but making sure that those that violate the law actually ensure that they pay a price for stealing from their workers. Let's call it what it is. It is stealing from their workers,” Dorans said.

Workers in Columbus and can file complaints with the commission on the city's website under wage theft prevention and enforcement.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.