The Rise of Wage Theft Laws: Can Community–Labor Coalitions Win Victories in State Houses?

Marc Doussard, Ahmad Gamal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Seeking regulatory power unavailable at the urban scale, community–labor coalitions have persuaded dozens of state legislatures to enact legislation addressing the problem of wage theft in low-wage service industries. The project of wage theft reform raises important questions about whether urban coalitions can effectively pursue their advocacy goals in State Houses. Drawing on an inventory of 255 wage theft laws proposed between 2004 and 2012, we evaluate three rival explanations of why wage theft legislation succeeds: worker grievances, political conditions, and movement strength. We find that states with larger numbers of worker centers and higher union density are more likely to both propose and enact wage theft legislation. Our results also suggest that urban reform movements maintain greater power to set legislative agendas than they do to ensure the passage of proposed laws. This suggest that “new labor” actors have developed state-level political power that warrants further scrutiny and explanation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-807
Number of pages28
JournalUrban Affairs Review
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • community–labor coalitions
  • political scale
  • state policy
  • wage theft
  • worker centers


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