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Enforcement of wage and hour laws has long been strikingly lax.When the federal minimum-wage law was first established in 1941, there was one federal workplace inspector for every 11,000 workers.Funding was subsequently restored by the state’s Controlling Board, but even so, the state was left only six inspectors for the entire workforce.A seventh inspector was slated to begin work later in 2011, at which point each agent would have responsibility for 616,000 private-sector workers.By far the most galvanizing and most widely reported legislative battle of the past two years was Wisconsin Gov.

This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.This report begins by examining the recent offensive aimed at public-sector unions in order to point out the tactics commonly employed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce; it establishes that their agenda is driven by political strategies rather than fiscal necessities.The paper then examines the details of this agenda with respect to unionized public employees, non-unionized public employees, and unionized private-sector workers.By 2008, the number of laws that inspectors are responsible for enforcing had grown dramatically, but the number of inspectors per worker was less than one-tenth what it had been in 1941, with 141,000 workers for every federal enforcement agent.167 With the current staff of federal workplace investigators, the average employer has just a 0.001 percent chance of being investigated in a given year.168 That is, an employer would have to operate for 1,000 years to have even a 1 percent chance of being audited by Department of Labor inspectors.Budget cuts and political choices have exacerbated this crisis even further at the state level.Indeed, in each state where anti-union legislation was advanced, voters typically perceived it as the product of homegrown politicians and a response to the unique conditions of their state.

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