Labor

Jim Hill / KUNC

Colorado employment is off to a strong start in 2016. The state added 5,200 payroll jobs in January, and the unemployment rate dipped to 3.2 percent.

"It was 15 years ago that we saw unemployment numbers this low," said Alexandra Hall, Chief Economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

While those numbers are encouraging, economists are concerned about the impact of sustained low oil prices on jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Emily Guerin / Inside Energy

Bankruptcies of oilfield companies large and small have grown as prices remain at their lowest levels in a decade or more. But company insolvencies aren't the only way a worker can be left underpaid. A growing number of oil workers are turning to the courts, saying they weren't paid fairly — even when times were good.

In Colorado, there were nine times as many wage suits against oil and gas companies in 2015 as there were in 2010.

CDLE

Colorado's economy is continuing its trend of slow but stable growth. Employers added 2,000 jobs in September, and Colorado's unemployment rate edged down 0.2 of a percentage point to 4.0 percent.

"We're continuing to see what I would call 'flat' conditions -- we've been in this 4 to 4.3 percent range all year long, which makes it feel like there isn't a lot going on," said Alexandra Hall, chief economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Whole Foods Market has announced that by April of next year it will stop sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor.

The move comes on the heels of a demonstration in Houston where the company was chastised for employing inmates through prison-work programs.

Michael Allen, founder of End Mass Incarceration Houston, organized the protest. He says Whole Foods was engaging in exploitation since inmates are typically paid very low wages.

Poncie Rutsch / KUNC

Many of the more than 3 million migrant farm workers that plant and pick the fruits and vegetables we eat in the U.S. live on the farms they work for. But the rules governing farmworker housing may be changing, worrying both farmers and migrant worker advocates.

For decades, farmworker housing standards have been governed by two government agencies, the Employment and Training Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A proposal from the Department of Labor seeks to eliminate the ETA standards in favor of the OSHA guidelines.

Switching to OSHA guidelines could be costly for farmers, who would be stuck with the bill for retrofitting housing to OSHA’s rules.

Now that marijuana use is legal in Colorado, can employees be fired for lighting up a joint in their free time?

That was the question before the Colorado Supreme Court this term and on Monday it came to a conclusion: Yes, you can get fired.

The case was brought by Brandon Coats, who sued Dish Network after it fired him for using his "state-licensed ... medical marijuana at home during nonworking hours."

courtesty of I-News

It is illegal for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose the name of an employer who has violated wage laws, no matter how egregious or benign the employer's actions are. All complaints and investigations of employers, even after they've been resolved, are confidential under the state's interpretation of a 100-year-old law.

In 1915, the Colorado legislature wrote the confidentiality into the first law on workers' compensation. The statute specifies that information employers provided "shall be for the exclusive use and information of said commission in the discharge of its official duties and shall not be open to the public."

The law now specifies that labor authorities "may" treat information containing "trade secrets" as confidential. The state's lawyers, however, have interpreted the law to extend blanket confidentiality to cover all information on investigations of unpaid wages.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-NEWS

Christy Lodwick – who has also been known as Christy Kemper, Christy Messer, Christy Hosey and Christy Workman over the years – has a long history of forgery, fraud and failing to pay workers according to court records, as she serially entrepreneurs health and aesthetics related enterprises, which serially go kaput.

What wasn't included in the criminal case was the $67,273 in wages eight former workers say they are owed. Her case demonstrates how impotent state labor authorities have been when faced with employers who cheat workers and business partners as a matter of course.

Under the Colorado Wage Act, illegally withholding wages is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $300 fine, penalties that are more lenient than the punishment for careless driving and have remained the same since 1941.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colorado. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Ward Boydstun misses his teeth. The 27-year-old left his dentures at the Bradley Petroleum gas station when he was escorted out in handcuffs. The company had paid for the new set of teeth for the former "manager of the month" when years of poor dental care left him with none.

Then, $4,534 and change was missing.

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