Yesterday NMASS members were joined by other Coalition for a Real Minimum Wage Increase partners to hold a press conference to acknowledge Gov. Cuomo’s recent recognition that the lack of labor law enforcement is a problem and to urge him to do more.
For almost two years, the Coalition has been highlighting the problems of wage theft and lax enforcement. Workers picketed the State Department of Labor for months, protesting its lack of enforcement–long delays and cases settled for almost nothing.
Cuomo’s announcements of his intention to address wages and sweatshop conditions in the nail salon and fast-food industries are positive, a step forward. However, education, task forces and bonds miss the real problem: the un-enforceability of the labor law
Patricia Contreras, a nail salon worker, talked about her four years working at Golden Nails salon for sub-minimal wages with no overtime pay. “When we asked our boss for more pay and for W-2’s, he fired us and closed the salon. We went to the Labor Department. We have a claim of $300,000. But how are we going to collect this? We need a stronger law so that the boss doesn’t hide his money!”
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.