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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

A Move to Protect Low-Wage Workers


coalition of labor unions, immigrant advocacy groups and nonprofit
organizations in New York
announced their support on Friday for newly introduced legislation that would
greatly increase penalties against employers that violate minimum-wage and
overtime laws.

of the bill, known as the Wage Theft Prevention and Responsible Employer
Protection Act, say that wage violations are all too common because penalties
for such violations are small under New York law and because employers that
break the law face little likelihood of getting caught.

legislation — introduced in the State Senate and State Assembly — would subject
employers that fail to pay, for instance, $10,000 in legally required overtime
to having to pay twice that amount in damages. That would be above and beyond
the $10,000 in back wages that current law already requires such employers to

“Wage theft is rampant in New York said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a Brooklyn-based advocacy group
for low-wage workers. “This bill will turn around the perverse economic
incentives that currently encourage wage theft.”

The bill
has been introduced in the State Senate and State Assembly.

support, the bill’s backers cite a report by the National Employment Law
Project [pdf] that found that the city’s low-wage workers experienced more than
$18 million in wage violations each week, or nearly $1 billion a year. The
report found that more than 300,000 low-wage workers in New York suffer wage violations each week,
or $3,016 on average per year in minimum-wage, overtime and other wage

Diane J.
Savino, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate Senate and a Democrat representing
portions of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said
“Businesses that are good citizens and pay their employees exactly what is owed
them and on time — as is required by law — should not be at a disadvantage to
companies that are illegally withholding wages from their workers.”

bill’s supporters say it will not only deter dishonest employers and protect
law-abiding ones, but it will also help the state’s tax coffers because many
companies that cheat their workers on wages also cheat the state by not withholding
income taxes and not paying unemployment insurance taxes or workers’
compensation premiums.

The bill
would strengthen requirements that employers provide pay stubs and accurate pay
data and would make first-time wage offenses a felony in egregious instances.

To deter
employers that might discourage victims from reporting wage theft, the bill
would fine employers $10,000 for each retaliatory firing of a worker who speaks
out against wage violations or files a wage claim.

The bill
would create a private right of action to allow workers to bring lawsuits over
violations of laws covering meal breaks, pay stubs and days of rest. To
encourage reticent workers to come forward, the legislation would allow
third-party groups to file complaints on their behalf.

many employers delay complying with back-pay judgments, the legislation would
increase penalties by 30 percent against employers that do not pay wage
judgments within 90 days.

“In industries that form the
backbone of the emerging economy – retail, service, restaurants, construction –
noncompliance with the basic protections of New York labor law is often the
norm, not the exception,”
said Deborah Axt, legal director for Make the Road New York. Unscrupulous employers drive down
standards, benefiting from unfair competition with businesses that do comply
with the law.

Ms. Axt added: “These reforms will make New
the leader in the fight to combat wage theft.”