Legislature Passes Forceful Protection Against Wage Theft

On Tuesday, November 30, 2010 the New York State Assembly gave final legislative approval to the Wage Theft Prevention Act (A11726/S8380), introduced by Assemblymember Carl Heastie and Senator Diane Savino. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a prime sponsor of the bill who had spoken in favor of immediate passage at an event organized by supporters on Monday, called the Assembly’s action “a major victory for justice and decency in the way we treat workers, especially low-wage workers, in New York.”

The Senate already passed the bill in the Spring. With Governor David Paterson’s approval, the new legislation will protect many thousands of workers from employers who steal their wages by paying less than minimum wage, categorizing them improperly as independent contractors, or forcing them to work off the clock. While these practices are all illegal, penalties are minimal and enforcement mechanisms are limited under current law. The legislation will increase the penalties, give the Department of Labor and the courts new enforcement tools, and provide protection against retaliation when exploited workers come forward to complain about unscrupulous employers.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than $1 billion is stolen annually from workers just in New York City by employers who pay less than minimum wage, pay less than the compensation agreed upon, or fail to pay required overtime. The statewide figure is believed to be substantially higher.

Beyond the obvious harm and injustice to the workers, these practices place legitimate businesses that follow the law at a competitive disadvantage. They also reduce state and local tax revenues, by up to $50 million according to some estimates.

“I want to congratulate and thank the broad coalition that fought for this victory, led by Make the Road New York, and Assemblymember Carl Heastie and Senator Diane Savino for their tremendous leadership, and especially for working tirelessly on the final push to get this done before we adjourn for the year,” said Kavanagh.