Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers

Publication Date: April 2010

Publisher: National Employment Law Project Inc.

Author(s): Annette Bernhardt; Ruth Milkman; Nik Theodore; Douglas D. Heckathorn; Douglas D. Heckathorn; Mirabai Auer; Mirabai Auer; James DeFilippis; James DeFilippis; Ana Luz Gonzalez; Victor Narro; Jason Perelshteyn; Diana Polson; Michael Spiller

Research Area: Economics; Labor

Keywords: economic hardship; unauthorized immigrants ; low-wage industries

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


In 2008, the National Employment Law Project conducted a landmark survey of 4,387 workers in low-wage industries in the three largest U.S. cities—Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. It used an innovative, rigorous methodology that allowed researchers to reach vulnerable workers who are often missed in standard surveys, such as unauthorized immigrants and those paid in cash.

This report exposes a world of work in which the core protections that many Americans take for
granted—the right to be paid at least the minimum wage, the right to be paid for overtime hours, the right to take meal breaks, access to workers’ compensation when injured, and the right to advocate for better working conditions—are failing significant numbers of workers. According to the study, the sheer breadth of the problem, spanning key industries in the economy, as well as its profound impact on workers, entailing significant economic hardship, demands urgent attention.