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Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other leading Democrats are demanding answers about a new Trump administration program that rewards employers who self-report wage and overtime violations, warning that the initiative could "seriously harm workers being cheated by their employers."
Under the pilot program, which was the focus of an NBC special report on Monday, employers who come clean about minimum wage and overtime violations can avoid additional penalties and private litigation by bilked employees.
In a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Tuesday, Warren, of Masschusetts, and her colleagues warned that the program, known as Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID), would allow employers to avoid serious consequences for wage theft.
"The PAID program fails to hold them accountable for their unethical and illegal behavior," they wrote. "Letting violators off the hook for wage theft penalties tilts the economic playing field even further against workers and in favor of unethical corporations that break the law.”
The letter was co-signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
The administration said it would be "premature to comment" about the pilot program since it is still underway, according to Labor Department spokesperson Megan Sweeney. But she pointed out that the department has run a similar self-reporting program for employer violations since 2002.
Sweeney added that the department collected $270 million in back wages in 2017, which was "the second highest number ever recorded."
The Democratic senators asked Acosta to provide detailed information about the program, including the Trump administration's criteria for determining whether employers were acting in "good faith" or using the program to evade enforcement. New York's attorney general also has filed suit against the Labor Department for failing to provide records about the program.
The letter said that the six-month pilot program, which is scheduled to run until October, should not be extended until the Labor Department fully evaluates its impact.