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

Gov. Cuomo signs new legislation making it easier for workers and the state Labor Department to fight wage theft

The new law improves on the landmark 2010 Wage Theft Prevention Act by strengthening penalties for wage theft and protections for workers who report it.

It feels good to be able to write about something positive for New York workers in my first column of 2015. After all, measures that benefit them and rein in abuses by their bosses are as rare as snow in August.

It took a long time but on Monday Gov. Cuomo gave a last-minute Christmas gift to hundreds of thousands of low-wage laborers across the state by signing legislation making it easier for workers and the state Department of Labor to fight wage theft, which in New York has been an epidemic for many years.

“I am tired of waiting,” said Marcos Lino, who filed a complaint with the Department of Labor in 2008 after enduring four years of being shortchanged by his boss in a small Flushing grocery store. Six years have passed and his case is still unresolved.

Hopefully now Lino — and thousands more who, like him, have waited far too long to recover what is rightfully theirs — will finally get some justice.

“The groundbreaking legislation signed today will protect both workers from abuse, and law-abiding businesses from being undercut by employers who turn a profit by breaking the law,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

It should also help reduce the backlog at the Department of Labor.

The legislation, sponsored by Bronx Democratic Leader and now Assembly Labor chair Carl Heastie and state Sen. Diane Savino, improves on the landmark Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA), also sponsored by them and signed in 2010 by then-Gov. Paterson. The WTPA strengthened penalties for wage theft and protections for workers who report it.

“Mugging employees out of pay not only hurts families, it hurts communities. It makes honest employers less competitive,” Savino said when the WTPA was signed into law . “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.”

The New York Coalition to End Wage Theft supports the new legislation, which also has the backing of labor, community and religious groups, and law-abiding employers. It improves on retaliation protection for workers, transparency provisions to help advocates and workers identify cases of wage theft and helps facilitate wage theft policing.

But as Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make The Road New York, warns, the new law is no panacea.

“Much remains to be done,” she said, “to eliminate the scourge of wage theft that still victimizes working families and responsible businesses alike.”

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