On April 20, 2015, the NYC Council Committee on Women’s Issues and Committee on Civil Service and Labor held a hearing on Resolution 0612-2015. The Resolution calls on the NYS Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign, Assembly Bill No. 5501, which will strengthen New York’s labor laws so that workers can actually collect the wages they have earned. Workers and advocates from the Coalition to Secure Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) , of which NMASS is a member, joined the hearing to urge City Council members to pass the resolution and do even more to stop wage theft in NYC.
Marco Lino worked at Rosemary Farm market for more than 4 years. He worked 13 hours a day, 6 days a week, but was paid only about $4.70 an hour. The NYS Department of Labor ordered Lino’s employer to pay him more than $51,000 in owed wages, but after waiting seven years on his case, Lino has not received a penny. “The Labor Department told me that they couldn’t collect the money,” Lino said. “We need changes in the law if the Department of Labor can’t even get the boss to pay you what was stolen from you. I worked hard for that money.”
Another worker, Jinming Cao, sued his restaurant employer along with 25 co-workers. They won in court but so far have been unable to collect. Cao said, “I have a court judgment that says my boss owes me $140,000 but what good is it if I can’t collect? Why would any boss pay the right wage if the law is not enforced.”
Current estimates say over $20 million is stolen from workers each week in NYC. When workers speak out against their employers who are not paying or underpaying wages, they are often met with insurmountable obstacles. Even when workers win their case in court or when the New York Department of Labor has determined that the workers are owed wages, employers evade the law by hiding their assets, transferring businesses to friends and family, and other tactics that leave the workers with nothing to collect. In a recent report by the SWEAT Coalition, “Empty Judgments: the Wage Collection Crisis in NY”, researchers found that at least $125 million in court judgments and NYS Department of Labor decisions have gone uncollected.
Amy Tai, staff attorney at Urban Justice Center added, “New Yorkers need the SWEAT bill to ensure that our labor laws are enforced and meaningful. With stronger tools, such as wage liens, to preserve defendants’ assets during a labor dispute, workers will have the ability to actually collect their hard-earned wages.”
The SWEAT Coalition applauds the City Council’s initiative to tackle wage theft in NYC while we wait for change in Albany. It also urged the Assembly to take swift action to pass Assembly Bill No. 5501 so that workers are paid for all of the work they do.
The SWEAT Coalition is a growing statewide coalition of grassroots organizations, workers centers, faith based organizations and advocacy groups. Assembly Bill No. 5501 was introduced by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal to stop employers who break the law from closing up shop or hiding assets to avoid paying workers. Resolution 0612-2015 was introduced by Public Advocate Leticia James and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito