The national “wage theft” debate is gaining traction in our borough, as a local immigrant-rights group ramps up its public advocacy about low-wage workers denied legal salary, overtime and other mandated benefits.
Witness the recent rally in Port Richmond where almost 100 protesters — men and women, young and older — carried signs in English and Spanish, denouncing illegal practices of private Staten Island employers, including off-the-books salaries below state minimum wage, denial of legally required overtime pay and other alleged abuses.
“Every day, unscrupulous employers are stealing wages from low-wage workers across New York City, to the tune of over $18 million a week, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project,” said Julia Dietz, an attorney with Make the Road New York, a nonprofit immigrant-advocacy organization with offices on Port Richmond Avenue.
“That’s millions of dollars that workers need to put food on the table for their families and pay the bills,” she said at the rally.
Alleged victims of these illegal practices include women and men working in “bakeries, pizzerias, delis, nail salons, car washes, restaurants and grocery stores,” she claimed.
Other workers claiming to be subjected to illegal practices are employed by “landscapers, plumbing companies, cleaning companies and (construction) contractors,” she added.
One 43-year-old man at the Monday rally, born in Antigua in the Caribbean and now a Port Richmond resident, said that his North Shore employer paid him only $5.35 an hour, off the books and in cash, in 2013 and until February of this year.
“I started work at 4:30 a.m., and sometimes worked until 6 p.m., with no break, no nothing,” he claimed. “It’s no good. It’s not right.”
His employer never paid him overtime wages, this man alleges.
Despite New York State laws that provide legal protection to workers, “I frequently meet Staten Islanders whose bosses act as if they can get away with not paying their workers, or pocketing their overtime wages,” said Ms. Deitz, the workplace-justice lawyer.
“Everyone should receive the wages they worked for,” she added. “New York needs to dedicate the resources necessary for enforcement so that unscrupulous bosses know we mean business.”