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

Workers call on Cuomo to fight wage-theft with more resources

About two dozen people, mostly Latino immigrants, will pack an Assembly hearing today to highlight one side effect of tight state budgets: lackluster enforcement of wage-theft prevention laws.

“A wage-theft prevention law is useless if it isn’t regularly enforced,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “New Yorkers need a better-resourced Department of Labor.”

During a press conference, several major unions joined with the Latino advocacy group Make the Road New York to call for 200 additional inspectors at the state board, which like all agencies has again been asked to prepare a zero-growth budget. Make the Road’s executive director, Deborah Axt, did not offer a firm estimate on how much those new inspectors would cost the state, but said it was far less than the projected amount of stolen wages. Appelbaum put that figure, for just New York City, at $1 billion a year.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t unveil his budget proposal until January, groups are already beginning to angle for funding increases. The governor has signaled that he hopes to hold spending to two percent, and to direct any surplus to tax cuts. Some left-leaning groups are arguing in response that funding increases in various areas are long overdue.

Adolfo Lopez, the leader of Mobilizacion Nacional Contra la Exploitacion, said he has been waiting since 2008 for a claim he and fellow workers at the Flor De Mayo restaurant filed against its owner for allegedly paying them $1.25 an hour. A settlement was reached, but the owner appealed. Lopez waited two years for a hearing, which happened last December, but he has still not received any money, he said.

“Cuomo: get rid of these subsidies that are supporting the bosses and give resources to the Department of Labor and attorney general,” he said in Spanish.

A Department of Labor spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The hearing will also feature testimony from business groups, who have questioned a provision in the 2010 wage-theft prevention law that requires employers to keep on file a signed letter from each worker showing they have been notified of their annual earnings. That law also stiffened penalties for employers, imposed protections for workers who bring claims and made it easier for them to do so.

“The wage notification and acknowledgement requirement of the Wage Theft Prevention Act provides little, if any, additional benefit to employees,” said Ken Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs for The Business Council. “Repealing this one specific mandate would eliminate unnecessary administrative costs this mandate imposes on private sector employers that are in full compliance with fair wage laws.”

The issues seems ripe for a trade, though Axt said it is “ridiculous” that the notification letters are “such an obsessive focus for some people.”

“We’re not rigidly opposed to adjustments and are always open for conversation on commonsense suggestions,” she said.

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