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Wage Recovery Program Underway At SC Legal Services
3/22/2016 2:15:41 PM

Rev. Nelson Rivers, III
By Barney Blakeney

Last spring, Charleston Area Justice Ministries members voted to target wage theft which takes many forms.

CAJM, along with partners, South Carolina Legal Services and Charleston County Council announce a new program, the Wage Recovery Program, which takes aim at fighting wage theft in Charleston County.

CAJM grew out of an initiative that began in 2011. It’s an organization of faith-based groups that came together with a mission to impact issues of justice.

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III, pastor of Charity Baptist Church in North Charleston who is one of CAJM’s founders, said the organization is the most unique movement of its kind in modern times.

“South Carolina is an anti-labor, anti-union state. If you work without pay, that’s slavery. It should be unacceptable,” Rivers said. Wage theft is a serious and ongoing problem. Some employers withhold wages for any number of reasons. They may refuse to pay overtime, garnish wages for uniforms or require servers to use their tips to pay other hourly workers. The cost of stolen wages is estimated at some $50 billion annually.
CAJM members voted to target wage theft at its annual members meeting last March.

In August, Charleston County Council allocated funding to South Carolina Legal Services to provide the services of an attorney and paralegal to litigate cases of wage theft.

Stephanie M. van der Horst, SCLS’S Wage Recovery attorney, said since November she and her paralegal Jennifer Morgan have recovered more than $5,000 for clients. They hope to serve 50 clients this year.

Van der Horst wants workers to know they have an ally in attempting to recover illegally withheld wages. Her clients usually are low income wage earners who often can’t afford to pursue recovery of illegally withheld wages. The amounts owed may represent only a few hundred dollars and most attorneys are unwilling to litigate such cases. But that money represents a month’s worth of groceries, a utility bill payment or transportation costs to the worker, van der Horst said.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to further serve workers in Charleston County,” said Angela Myers, managing attorney of the SCLS office in North Charleston. “Wage theft affects families beyond the worker. A loss of $500 can mean being late on rent or not being able to afford groceries.”

CAJM recognized the need for assisting workers in collecting wages owed and advocated for the creation of the Wage Recovery Program. They found the most efficient way to accomplish that through the infrastructure that already existed at the nonprofit law firm, she said.

Workers that live or work in Charleston County who may have experienced wage theft can call SCLS at (843) 720-7044 ext. 2178.

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