Learn more about the bill at www.sweatny.org
“With Minimum Wage Passed, Advocates Look to Wage Theft Issue” – Albany Times Union
“Workers Press for Bill to Assist Wage Theft Victims” – Public News Service
“Renewed Push to Prevent Wage Theft” – Capitol Tonight interview with Sarah Ahn and Susan Zimet of the SWEAT Coalition
Workers Call on Albany Legislators:
Make the Minimum Wage Increase Real for All Workers
On the heels of New York State’s minimum wage increase, workers and supporters are convening in Albany to say, a wage increase is critical, but will never be seen by many workers unless the Legislature also provides the tools needed to enforce the wage laws. Workers, advocates, and supporters from throughout NYS joined Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Senator Jose Peralta and co-sponsors to call for passage of A5501/S2232, the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) bill.
According to a study by the US Department of Labor released last year, workers in NY and California lose 1.6-2.5 billion dollars a year to wage theft. This means, workers are not being paid for the work they have already performed. Even with recent measures to combat wage theft in NYS, many millions of workers are routinely cheated out of their pay. This is because employers are able to shut down their shops, transfer and hide their assets and never pay even when workers win court judgments. Many workers who turn to government agencies meet the same fate. A report published last year by the SWEAT Coalition found that $125 million went uncollected on wage theft judgments and orders, of which $101 million were from orders by the State Department of Labor.
The proposed bill offers a simple solution to workers and enforcing government agencies by introducing new tools to combat wage theft. The bill will expand and improve existing mechanisms so unscrupulous employers cannot fraudulently dissipate their assets to evade court judgments and orders to pay owed wages.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, the bill’s lead sponsor, shared the experiences of her constituents and workers in her district who faced this uphill battle. “Without the ability to collect on a wage theft judgments, winning in court is not worth the
piece of paper it’s written on,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan). “Some employers will go to any length to avoid paying workers their hard earned wages, including filing for bankruptcy, leaving hundreds of hard working New Yorkers owed hundreds of millions of dollars in earned wages. My bill, A.5501-C, the SWEAT bill, will arm aggrieved employees with a powerful tool to collect wages they earned, allowing them to file a wage lien against the assets of their employer.”
State Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens), sponsor of the bill, noted, “Countless hardworking New Yorkers are abused on the job when it comes to straight out wage theft, the theft of tips, and payments below the minimum wage. Unfortunately, predatory and unscrupulous employers are stealing money from men and women who earn it to support their families. This is intolerable. If an employer steals from a worker, we should have every possible recourse available to remedy the situation. Period.”
Jei Fong, a representative of the SWEAT Coalition stated, “If our elected officials in Albany don’t pass the SWEAT bill this year, many workers will be left behind when wages are increased next year. It’s impossible to lift workers out of poverty when unscrupulous employers continue to underpay workers and can still avoid ever being held responsible. Our bill allows workers and the government to go after only the employers who break the law. This is good for workers, law-abiding employers, and the state.”
The Coalition behind this bill is a statewide coalition, representing workers, community, advocacy and faith-based groups from all over New York State.
Susan Zimet, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State stated, “It is criminal that workers, after putting in hours and hours of work, can then have their wages stolen from them! How is the worker supposed to put food on the table or pay their bills? What good is a law if the loopholes are so big it is ineffectual? It is imperative that the SWEAT bill is passed this legislative session and signed into law. Workers deserve the protection under the law, and SWEAT will do just that.”
“The wage theft epidemic in New York is not isolated to the NYC and downstate area—it’s a state-wide crisis that impacts workers and communities throughout the state, including areas of Upstate, Central and Western New York,” said Elizabeth Koo from Empire Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project in Rochester, NY. “When wages are stolen from workers and they’re left unable to recover the money owed to them, it’s not only the workers who suffer—our government gets cheated of payroll taxes, it creates unfair competition to law-abiding businesses, and it hurts working families and our state’s economy. The SWEAT bill is badly needed to address the far-reaching impacts of the wage theft crisis in New York.”
Nail salon, restaurant, day laborer, home attendant, office, and other workers have been standing up against wage theft and even winning decisions. But despite these judgments, workers have not been able to collect the wages owed to them because legal loopholes allow employers to completely escape responsibility. By fraudulently transferring assets, declaring bankruptcy, or shutting down their business and changing names, unscrupulous employers can avoid ever paying the stolen wages of even those workers who win decisions at the DOL or judgments in court, such as the nail salon workers at Babi Nails.
This not only causes many workers to suffer, it also undermines those employers who comply with the labor law. Even the Labor Department says it is frustrated because it cannot collect stolen wages.
As long as bosses can run away from the law, there will be no end to wage theft. The Coalition calls on the Governor to support the SWEAT bill (Securing Wages Earned Against Theft) to make the labor law enforceable and to put a stop to sweatshop conditions.