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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Bill to Outlaw Wage Theft is Sent to N.Y. Gov. David Paterson

Most New Yorkers are working people, and, as such, they have plenty of reasons to celebrate last Tuesday’s passage of the Wage Theft Prevention Act by the state Assembly.

At a time of all-around bad economic news, this is a welcome piece of good news.

“This is spectacular. This groundbreaking legislation puts New York at the top of the list in terms of labor protection laws,” said Andrew Friedman of Make the Road New York.

Friedman’s group was part of a coalition of low-income workers, small businesses, organized labor, nonprofits and legal services providers that worked tirelessly for passage of the legislation.

Gov. Paterson, a firm supporter of the bill, had issued a message of necessity last Monday, ensuring that it could come up for a vote in the Assembly.

The bill will now go back to Paterson’s desk for his signature. Both the Senate and Assembly passed versions of the bill in summer.

“We don’t know yet when he will sign it, but it probably won’t be this week,” Friedman said.

The act, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Diane Savino (D-S.I.) and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), will help eliminate or at least reduce what is a real wage-theft epidemic.

It will ensure that shameful stories like that of Luis Olivo, a Dominican immigrant who was robbed of $200,000 in wages after he worked for seven years at a Bronx supermarket without receiving a salary, will not be repeated.

National Employment Law Project studies reveal that in New York City alone – the only city for which data is available – unscrupulous employers steal more than $18.4 million a week, almost $1 billion a year, from their workers in the form of wage theft.

Rogue employers who either don’t pay workers or grossly underpay them have been getting away with this veritable crime wave because most abused workers, afraid of losing their jobs, don’t speak up, and because penalties have been so minor as to be totally ineffective.

Actually, even if they get caught stealing from their workers, it is currently cheaper for employers to pay a penalty than to pay workers what the law requires.

The WTPA, a comprehensive 26-page bill, would combat the impunity dishonest employers have enjoyed over the years by making it easier for employees to collect unpaid wages and holding employers accountable for violating wage and hour laws.

Another important benefit, advocates say, is that the law will bring in approximately $50 million in increased savings and revenues to help the state government save valuable programs currently threatened by the fiscal crisis.

The bill protects law-abiding businesses from unfair competition with employers who reduce labor costs by stealing workers’ minimum wages and overtime pay.

“Stealing from employees not only hurts families, it hurts communities. It also makes honest employers less competitive. Businesses that are good citizens and pay their employees 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,” Savino said.

“These rogue employers not only steal wages from hardworking families who are doing all they can to make ends meet … but also steal much-needed funds from our city and state coffers,” he said.

As Nieves Padilla of Make the Road New York said, “Now we’ll have the tools to make employers follow the law.”