Hundreds of low-income workers rallied outside of the Department of Labor’s office in downtown New York City today to hold the Governor accountable for failing to enforce the law to combat the epidemic of wage theft, which costs workers in NYC alone a billion dollars a year. Protestors were also upset that Cuomo for more than a year has failed to convene a minimum wage board to provide a wage hike to food tip workers, as required in last year’s deal on the minimum wage.
The rally took place a few days after the State Comptroller released an audit criticizing Cuomo’s Labor Department for more than 17,000 open wage theft cases and long delays. The Coalition for a Real Minimum Wage Increase and workers rallied to demand that Cuomo take immediate action to stop the cover up of wage theft and enforce the labor law.
The rally supported the six-year long effort by workers of Indus Valley and Earthen Oven restaurants to recover stolen wages. Workers went to the Department of Labor in 2008 and 2010 respectively to complain about minimum-wage violations. For years, their bosses Lakhvir and Phuman Singh paid them only $3 an hour. Today, the Indus Valley workers still do not receive the minimum wage.
Salomon Perez, one of the workers from Earthen Oven said, “Of course he doesn’t pay. He doesn’t care that he’s stealing money from us because there is no punishment for him. We want to ask Cuomo: are you a friend to criminal bosses? Why are you supporting businesses that break the law and not workers?!”
The Indus Valley workers are not an isolated situation. Many workers have cases languishing at the DOL for two years or much more. The Comptroller’s audit revealed 75%, about 13,000 cases, were at least a year old from the initial claim date. In light of this, many workers don’t even bother to file claims.
The Coalition charged that the DOL under Cuomo’s leadership has failed to respond to workers’ complaints in a timely fashion. The DOL has also refused to enforce the law that says that law-breaking employers can be held responsible for 6 years of back pay that they had stolen from workers.
“Is this the way to cut down the backlog–by not enforcing the law and by not strengthening the law to make criminal employers pay and not do it again? More and more bosses are breaking the law. Cuomo is promoting sweatshops by refusing to enforce the law. We need a governor that will stand up for workers, not for criminal bosses”, said Jei Fong, from the Coalition for a Real Minimum Wage Increase.
The rally also called for Governor Cuomo to follow the directive in the minimum-wage hike law passed last year: immediately convene a minimum-wage board to give New Yorkers a real increase, especially for tipped workers, 72% of whom are women.
Zeniada Mendez, the president of NOW-NYS said, “It’s a scandal that it has been over a year since the state’s minimum wage law passed and the Governor promised to raise tipped workers wages–and it has not happened. This is part of the reason women do not get equal pay. This disgraceful practice has to end in New York State.”
Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network, said it was time for Cuomo to protect workers rather than lawbreaking employees. “The needs of New York’s lowest income workers are being sacrificed to the Governor’s political desire to be seen as business friendly. The role of the Labor Department should be to protect workers. Allowing employers to steal billion dollars plus a year from their workers increases poverty and the demand upon charities, while depriving the state of much needed revenue. When poor people steal a few dollars to feed their families, they end up in jail. When employers routinely steal from the paychecks, nothing happens.”
We are calling upon state lawmakers to strengthen state laws against wage theft, and to more aggressively enforce existing ones. Workers complain that even when they win their complaints about wage theft, they seldom collect – which just encourages the bosses to steal even more.