May 11, 2006
After Lawsuit, Department of Labor Releases Names of Unlocatable Low-Wage Workers Owed Back Wages
DOL Had Sought to Keep Names Secret; Public Citizen Filed Suit on Behalf of IWJ
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has agreed to release the names of “unlocatable” low-wage workers who are owed back wages as part of government settlements. The lawsuit, filed by Public Citizen on behalf of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), was dismissed today by IWJ after the DOL disclosed the names.
In April 2005, IWJ, a Chicago-based workers rights organization, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the DOL for the names of all unlocatable workers owed back wages by federal settlements. The DOL denied the request, claiming it would invade the workers’ personal privacy. The refusal came even though for two years the DOL had worked with IWJ on a project to create a searchable Web site to assist the government in disbursing back wage settlements to unlocatable workers, which was the DOL’s idea.
IWJ appealed the decision, but received no response from the agency, which had 20 business days to respond. On Jan.18, Public Citizen filed suit on behalf of IWJ against the DOL in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking release of the workers’ names. In response to the suit, the DOL released to IWJ its list of unlocated workers and IWJ dropped its lawsuit.
“This information will help thousands of past, present and future low-wage workers,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of IWJ. “Not only will it alert them of money that is rightfully theirs, but it could encourage more workers to report wage theft and other wage violations.”
“We’re glad the agency recognized that disclosing these names is not a violation of the workers’ privacy,” said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney handling the case. “We hope the release of these records will help workers receive the back wages they are due.”
A copy of the suit is available here.