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Fullerton : Police Target Those Who Cheat Workers

In a move aimed at worker exploitation, the Police Department has launched a new program to identify and prosecute employers who cheat dayworkers out of wages.

The Fullerton department is believed to be only the second in Orange County to claim authority under a section of the state penal code that defines uncompensated labor as theft. The other is in Costa Mesa.

Previously, both police departments referred workers who believed they were victimized by unscrupulous employers to the state Labor Commission, which has jurisdiction over most labor code violations.

However, that route has proved impractical for many non-English-speaking workers and undocumented aliens, who often fail to report such incidents for fear they might be deported, said Sgt. Joe Klein.

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Klein said the department decided to initiate the program after release of a report last year by the Orange County Human Relations Commission that cited an “alarming incidence of workers abandoned without being paid.”

The report found that undocumented workers are especially subject to such exploitation.

Detective Art Wiechmann, who drafted the Fullerton program, said the department will only investigate cases where the work was performed or the agreement made within the city limits.

Cases in which there is disagreement over amount of wages to be paid, overtime compensation, insurance or hazardous working conditions do not come under police jurisdiction and will still be referred to the Labor Commission, Wiechmann said.

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Following the policy of the Labor Commission, the department will not notify the Immigration and Naturalization Service of any undocumented workers who file complaints.


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