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RELEASE: PSN Report Names NY National Leader in Wage Theft Prevention

04/18/2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
CONTACT: Charles Monaco, Director of Communications and New Media, Progressive States Network, cmonaco@progressivestates.org


PSN Report Names NY National Leader in Wage Theft Prevention, One Year After Enactment of Landmark Law

New survey of state approaches to cracking down on wage theft cites NY's Wage Theft Prevention Act as model


New York, NY – A new report released today by Progressive States Network names New York state a national leader in preventing wage theft -- or the nonpayment or underpayment by employers of wages legally owed to employees. The report also spotlights approaches taken by other states -- including Illinois, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Florida -- to a nationwide problem it argues is causing economic strain to workers and state taxpayers alike.

The report, Cracking Down on Wage Theft: State Strategies for Protecting Workers and Recovering Revenues, highlights the national scale of the problem, with nearly two-thirds of low wage workers experiencing wage violations each week, as well as the economic challenges that wage theft poses for honest businesses who are forced compete with unscrupulous employers. It also notes how New York’s law, which went into effect almost exactly a year ago, should help the state recover up to $427 million each year in lost revenue from underpayment of wages -- an important signal to other states that have not begun to address this problem.

"Even in states where advocates and regulators are working hard to prosecute wage theft, the fact of the matter is that the laws themselves are too weak," said Tim Judson, Senior Policy Specialist at Progressive States Network in a briefing announcing the release of the report. "When employers stand to gain thousands of dollars from cheating each of their workers, in many states the best those workers can do under the law is recover their lost wages, months or years after the fact. For unethical employers, wage theft is at worst a zero-sum game. In recent years, states have begun to modernize their wage theft laws to crack down on the problem. In our survey, we have evaluated state’s existing laws against a set of model policies, standards and best practices that worker advocates, legislators, and policy groups are promoting."

Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director of Make The Road New York, spoke about the sweeping changes brought about by New York's Wage Theft Prevention Act over the past year.

"The Wage Theft Prevention Act grew out of the experience of the members and attorneys of Make the Road NY who had been fighting wage theft cases for over a dozen years and had seen firsthand what the failings of the law were: where the penalties were too weak, and where there were no teeth in protections for workers who might face retaliation if they came forward and stood up for their rights," said Axt. "As mentioned in the report, it created a really perverse incentive for employers here in New York who could just go ahead steal workers’ wages and build it into the cost of doing business, making it impossible for responsible employers to compete on a level playing field."

Amador Rivas, a member of Make the Road's workers' committee, spoke about his role in pushing for passage of the Wage Theft Prevention Act and designing it to meet the needs of low-wage workers, and the impact the law has already had for workers:

"Right after the law took effect, we were involved with a case at a restaurant where employees who came forward and stood up for their rights were fired in retaliation for doing that," said Rivas. "But since we had the tools of the Wage Theft Prevention Act by then, we were able to fight back.... Employers for the very first time who were exploiting their workers must take seriously the law and their obligation to pay their employees correctly."

"I was very happy to join Assembly Member Heastie in sponsoring and passing the Wage Theft Prevention Law in New York State," added New York State Senator Diane Savino, an original co-sponsor of the law. "The law is helping hard-working New York families in their fight for economic security and justice. It will help New Yorkers recover billions of dollars in lost wages stolen by unscrupulous employers and will help New York State recover hundreds of millions of dollars every year in lost revenue from the underpayment of wages. It will further help end the competitive advantage that dishonest businesses hold over their honest competitors. Wage theft has slowed down the economic recovery - the Wage Theft Prevention Law is changing that. I thank the Progressive States Network for their important and excellent report on this issue and look forward to their detailed study of wage theft prevention efforts in all fifty states."

In addition to taking a close look at New York's Wage Theft Prevention Act, Cracking Down on Wage Theft compares it to model policies being advanced in the states and lists a comprehensive set of model policies, standards, and best practices that represent a solid standard for state wage theft laws.

A PDF of the report is available at:

http://www.progressivestates.org/pubs/reports/cracking-down-on-wage-theft-state-strategies-protecting-workers-and-recovering-revenues

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Progressive States Network (http://www.progressivestates.org) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the work of progressive state legislators around the country and to the advancement of state policies that deliver on the issues that matter to working families: integrating immigrants into our communities, strong wage standards and workplace freedom, balancing work and family responsibilities, health care for all, smart growth and clean energy, tax and budget reform, clean and fair elections, and technology investments to bridge the digital divide. For more information visit www.progressivestates.org.