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Illinois Stiffens Penalties for Wage Theft

Illinois employers convicted twice in two years of cheating workers out of pay could face jail time under a bill Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law today.

The measure increases fines for a range of wage-and-hour violations and sets up the criminal penalties. It forces employers to provide workers an extra 2 percent for each month of underpayment. And it gives the Illinois Department of Labor power to adjudicate small claims without referring them to prosecutors.

Before signing the bill, Quinn pointed to a University of Illinois at Chicago study. It estimated that employers in Cook County alone shortchange or stiff more than 146,000 low-wage workers each week.

QUINN: A lot of those men and women who are not getting paid are supporting their families, their kids. They're living from check-to-check every month. Wage theft is a crime and we intend to do something about it.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce voiced qualms in Springfield about a version of the bill that included stronger penalties.

Busloads of workers and advocates, for their part, visited the capital to keep the bill moving.

The new law is one the nation's toughest measures against wage theft. It takes effect January 1.

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