By Jake Blumgart, AlterNet , June 8, 2012
This epidemic of wage theft goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream media and simply does not register on the policy agenda of most political elites. Some states and municipalities have taken on the issue, usually with prompting from labor and immigrant rights movements, resulting in anti-wage theft laws like the one in New York.
“By our estimation New York has the strongest law in the country,” says Tim Judson , workers' rights policy specialist with the Progressive States Network, and co-author (with Cristina Francisco-McGuire) of a new study , Cracking Down on Wage Theft: State Strategies for Protecting Workers and Recovering Revenues. “But wage theft laws are almost universally poor. In recent years a few states took strong steps, but even those laws have a ways to go before they are a model standard that could really be effective in cracking down on a problem this huge.”
New York's Wage Theft Prevention Act operates on three levels: punitive, protective and administrative. It increases penalties from 25 percent of stolen wages to 100 percent (if an employer steals $1,000, the worker could win back $2,000, instead of $1,250). If the employer doesn’t pay up in 90 days, the amount increases by 15 percent. The law expands whistleblower protections by providing protection to those who speak up for their colleagues and outlaws anyone (say, a manager’s son or a fellow worker) from threatening retaliation, like firing or cutting hours, where previously only the technically defined employer faced sanction. Fines of up to $10,000 can be levied upon those who, like Veranda's owners, try to punish workers for speaking out. The law also mandates clear and accessible record-keeping related to wage rates and pay days.
In Judson’s opinion, New York’s anti-wage theft law is so strong because it was drafted “hand-in-glove” between worker groups, chiefly Make the Road, and Eric Schneiderman’s unusually progressive  attorney general’s office. But just because a wage-theft law is enacted doesn’t mean worker advocates can leave the fight, especially in states where the attorney general’s office isn’t so reliable. State labor law enforcement apparatuses are notoriously underfunded and understaffed. Non-governmental organizations often have to educate workers, ensure the law is carried out and put pressure on employers.
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