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Know Your Rights
Source: WNYC Public Radio
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

BROADCAST: Workers Win Court Cases, But Can’t Recover Stolen Wages

The New York State Department of Labor boasts that it has recovered $169.4 million in stolen wages since 2011 through settlements and judgments against employers.

But workers aren’t seeing all of that money.

The DOL was unable to collect more than $101 million in wages the agency had already determined employers owed to workers from 2003 to 2013, according to a report by the SWEAT Coalition, made up of advocacy groups and lawyers.

The report, Empty Judgments: The Wage Collection Crisis in New York also surveyed 62 New York cases in which state or federal courts have issued judgments in civil cases, and found that $28 million owed to the workers had not been collected.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: Some employers deliberately dissipate their assets to avoid paying workers – and current law does not hold employers personally accountable. Without meaningful penalties, employee advocates say there is little deterrence.

“The difficulty in collecting on wage theft claims is a widespread and well-recognized problem,” said Hollis Pfitsch, a lawyer at Legal Aid Society, which has represented hundreds of low-wage workers that haven’t been able to collect unpaid earnings.

“Current New York law doesn’t give us the tools other states have to prevent this problem,” added Ms. Pfitsch, referring to a law in Wisconsin that allows judges to freeze employers’ assets during investigations.

Marcos Lino worked at a grocery store in Queens for four years. Marcos worked six-day weeks, long shifts and received a day-rate which – when divided by the hours – was less than minimum wage plus overtime. The Department of Labor investigated his case and filed a judgment against his employer four years ago. He is owed $51,000 and has not yet received any money.

But judgments, like the one filed in court against Marcos’s employer, lack the teeth and government oversight necessary to enforce the ruling.

“Employers tend to ignore it,” said Magdalena Barbosa, a lawyer representing wage theft cases at Make The Road NY. “The employer can close up shop, or transfer the business to a mother or father, or leave, and now there’s a judgment against a company that doesn’t exist.”

To listen to the original broadcast, click here.