Law to curb theft of employees’ wages

A Wage Theft Prevention Act — comprehensive legislation that will increase penalties and tighten enforcement of the New York laws protecting workers from wage theft was passed in he State Assembly and forarded to Gov. David Paterson for his signature.

Sponsors of the new law said it will change “the perverse incentive” by increasing penalties, increasing protection for workers who speak up, and add tools that the Department of Labor and courts can use to investigate cases and actually collect the money that workers are owed,

The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than $1 billion is stolen annually from New York City workers alone by unscrupulous employers. Advocates project that the WTPA will bring in approximately $50 million in increased savings and revenues to help the state government save valuable programs currently threatened by the fiscal crisis. The law will protect law-abiding businesses from unfair competition with employers who reduce labor costs by stealing workers’ minimum wages and overtime pay.

“The Wage Theft Prevention Act is simply the right thing to do,” Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the sponsor of the act, said. “It is the right thing to do by businesses, and really the right thing to do by workers across the state.”

“Stealing from employees not only hurts families, it hurts communities. It also makes honest employers less competitive,” Assemb. Heastie said. Businesses that are good citizens and pay their employees 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,” he added.

So-called rogue employers not only steal wages from hard-working families who are doing all they can to make ends meet during these difficult economic times, but also steal much-needed funds from our city and state coffers,” said Sen. Diane J. Savino, the senate sponsor of the bill

“Wage theft is a real concern for retail workers across this city,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “Every day, the wages of too many workers are stolen by employers who choose to ignore minimum wage, overtime pay and other labor laws.

“The Wage Theft Prevention Action will increase penalties and strengthen enforcement against low-road employers and give workers the protections they need and deserve.”

National Employment Law Project studies demonstrate that wage theft is rampant in New York — in NYC alone (the only city for which data is available), unscrupulous employers steal more than $18.4 million a week, almost $1 billion each year, from their workers in the form of wage theft.

Nieves Padilla of Make the Road New York added, “I have spent the last twelve years fighting with low wage workers to win back the wages that have been stolen from them. I’m so proud that today New York is on the verge of being a leader in the fight against wage theft. Now we’ll have the tools to make employers follow the law.”

Deborah Axt, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York, added, “We are here to thank the Assembly and the Senate for their ground-breaking work to combat wage theft. This is comprehensive reform at its best: it makes New York a leader in combating the worst forms of theft.”

On Nov. 17, the New York City Council unanimously had passed a resolution calling on the state to pass the WTPA this year.

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