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Suman Raghunathan on December 16, 2010 - 12:27pm
This week, New York Governor David Paterson signed the Wage Theft Protection Act into law, ending a long grassroots and legislative campaign to address the myriad ways workers are routinely cheated out of a fair day's pay by their employers, all in direct conflict with federal and state wage and hour laws. The problem is widespread, and of colossal proportions in many low-wage industries, including the garment, retail, and service sectors. A comprehensive study of New York City low-wage workers conducted by the National Employment Law Project found 21% of workers were paid less than the state's minimum wage; 77% did not receive mandatory time-and-a-half pay when they put in overtime work; and 69% didn't receive any extra pay they were promised for coming in to work early or staying late after their shift. Unscrupulous New York City employers cheat workers out of $18.4 million a week - adding up to nearly $1 billion in annual lost wages in New York City alone. In fact, wage theft is a crime that affects the bottom line for hard-working individuals and their families - as well as the state budget and all taxpayers - at a time when states are confronting historic budget deficits.
The Wage Theft Prevention Act was enacted after a long and sustained campaign led by Make the Road New York, a grassroots immigrant organization; the Retail Action Project, a group that organizes retail workers; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store UnionUnited Food and Commercial Workers (RWDSU), and the (UFCW). New York now joins Illinois, which passed a broad wage theft law earlier this year. Other wage theft victories in 2010 include:
Campaigns are also underway in several states and localities, including Little Rock, Arkansas and throughout Florida. Spurred by the prospect of recouping critical payroll tax revenue as they seek to address budget shortfalls, municipal and state governments are increasingly pursuing local wage theft ordinances and state-level laws. These proposals are often relatively inexpensive for state governments, and generally focus on using existing state labor agencies and mechanisms to increase and enforce penalties imposed on employers who commit wage theft as well as allow workers to sue their employers for back pay and other workplace violations. Increasing enforcement and penalties against employers who defraud workers and by extensiion the government effectively removes any incentive for businesses to not play by the rules and pay their workers in states where fines were previously (and perversely) extremely low.
Helpful messaging on this issue includes:
As states seek vehicles and opportunities to protect workers' rights and economic development vehicles to improve the current economic climate, pursuing wage theft legislation will likely continue to be a critical tool.
Full Resources from thisArticleNational Employment Law Project - Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City
The Albany Times Union - Wages Belong to the Workers
Progressive States Network - Wage Law Enforcement State Trend: Illinois Becomes Most Recent State To Crack Down on Wage Theft
Interfaith Worker Justice - www.wagetheft.org
This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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