In mid-January 2012—a year before these stories—Bobby Myers, the Roanoke-area labor law compliance officer for the Virginia Department of Labor & Industry, had written an op/ed in The Roanoke Times warning about the specific line item in GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget that would eliminate the state’s Wage and Employment Law Division.
From his op-ed:


While this is wrong on so many levels for the economically disadvantaged and the working poor, it is also a slap in the face to those employers who abide by the law and treat their employees fairly. Their unscrupulous competition will have an advantage over them. They should be concerned, if not outraged, at this as well.

On March 14, I sent emails to editors at three big daily papers in Virginia—the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Charlottesville Daily Progress and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk—asking if I’d missed any of their coverage on the issue. None of them responded, but we’ll update this post if we missed anything.

Woodman, interestingly, struggles with the term “wage theft.” On the one hand, it’s good shorthand, he said, “But to say it’s always theft feels a little off to me. In so many of these cases, the company itself is faltering, out of money and seems to want to pay employees but says it can’t. That said, companies should not have people clocking in if they think they won’t have the money to pay them the following week. Moreover, there is a lot of systematic, deliberate wage theft that takes place.”

Particularly, we imagine, if enforcement keeps getting whacked. Woodman’s cover story mentions several states other than Virginia that are also quietly cut funding for agencies that investigate and enforce minimum wage laws. They include Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Michigan, Hawaii, Oregon, and New Jersey. There may be others, and it might be a good idea for statehouse reporters to check the status of similar agencies in their own states. If Virginia is any indication, unpaid wages could be an under-covered issue on the state government beat.

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Corey Hutchins is CJR's correspondent for Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. A former alt-weekly staffer, he has twice been named journalist of the year in the weekly division by the S.C. Press Association. Hutchins recently worked on the State Integrity Investigation at the Center for Public Integrity, and he has contributed to Slate, The Nation, and Medium, among others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him at coreyhutchins@gmail.com.