In These Times: New York Named National Leader in Fight Against Wage Theft

By Josh Eidelson, In These Times, April 23, 2012

One year after New York's new wage theft law took effect, the Progressive States Network has named the state the nation’s leader in confronting the issue. Speaking on a media call Wednesday, PSN Senior Policy Specialist Tim Judson said the 2010 law has proved “the strongest in the country.” But he warned that the national picture remains bleak: “Where wage theft is concerned, there are essentially no cops on the beat.”

“Wage theft” is a new term for an old issue: employers not paying workers their agreed-to wages. It takes many forms: withholding wages; not paying overtime rate for overtime hours; paying below minimum wage; pressing workers to work off the clock. In 2010, In These Times contributor Art Levine reported on the case of immigrant workers who were paid under $2 an hour for work at the New York State Fair.

As Michelle Chen has reported, a survey conducted by the National Employment Law Project in 2008 estimated that wage theft costs the average low-wage worker a full 15 percent of annual income. NELP estimated New York’s unpaid wages at $1.5 billion denied to half a million workers. Analysis by the Drum Major Institute calculated that those lost wages meant a loss of $427 million in revenue for the state, which faces a $350 million budget deficit.

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