Lawsuits accusing employers of not paying their workers properly have exploded in the last few years, as recession lay offs required employers to lean more heavily on fewer workers. Reports suggest that in 2011, companies in the S&P 500 made $420,000 in revenue per employee even as worker output grew and real wages fell. During the same year, workers filed 7,006 lawsuits relating to wage and hour violations in federal courts, according to similar reports. That’s a 32% increase from 2008 and a 378% increase from 2000.
Indeed, between 1979 and 2009 worker wages increased by just 10.1% compared to an 80% increase in worker productivity, according to a 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute.
Several recent lawsuits have claimed high profile companies aren’t giving employees the wages they deserve. Walmart was fined $4.8 million by the Labor Department for not paying some workers their fare share of overtime wages. Drug company Novartis settled for $99 million over unpaid overtime, while lawsuits relating to similar claims are pending at Taco Bell and GlaxoSmithKline.
But there’s also a whole other class of workers that’s claiming companies haven’t provided adequate compensation: unpaid interns. A league of interns led by Diana Wang, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar, recently filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the Hearst Corporation — Harper’s parent company — broke labor laws by having her work as many as 55 hours a week without compensation.