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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Tribune
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Wage Theft Law Awaits Gov.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act, aimed at preventing employers from withholding wages, an often-overlooked problem among immigrant workers, passed the State Assembly and is waiting for Gov. David Paterson’s signature.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), passed the State Senate by a narrow margin in June and had been languishing in the Assembly. In recent weeks, labor and immigration activists, like Make The Road New York, pressured the Assembly to vote on the bill in last week’s special session. Last month, MRNY held a rally with victims of wage theft on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights demanding the Assembly act on the bill.

If enacted, the bill would create incentives for compliance by increasing liquidated damages from 25 percent to 100 percent; protect workers who speak out against retaliation by imposing fines against employers; and keep wage violators from hiding assets to avoid payments.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven). “This bill protects our workers from unscrupulous business owners.”

Miller, who said his office had fielded some calls from constituents who were victims of wage theft, said employers who abuse the law are the exception, rather than the rule.

“Most employers follow the law and treat their employees fairly,” he said. “But there are that handful of business owners who don’t, and that’s who this law goes after.”

The bill passed the Assembly 89-42, getting the votes of nearly all Democrats and some Republicans. Every Assembly member from Queens, as well as every Senator, voted in favor of the bill. Business leaders are lobbying Gov. Paterson to veto the legislation, citing the potential for increased labor costs.