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12/9/2015 | Improving Job Quality, Supporting Car Wash Workers

Ending Wage Theft in New York

By a Thousand Cuts: The Complex Face of Wage Theft in New York, a new report released by the Center for Popular Democracy on November 17th, highlights the pervasive nature of wage theft in New York City and state across numerous sectors of the economy. 

The report supports the efforts of the New York Coalition Against Wage Theft to bring greater awareness and accountability to the issue of wage theft. On the date of the release, the Coalition held an action to target one of the egregious employers profiled in the report: NY Insulation, an asbestos removal contractor convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from its workers. The action drew more than 100 attendees, including workers, advocates, and elected officials. City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Leticia James were featured speakers.

Despite the passage of New York’s landmark Wage Theft Prevention Act in 2010, wage theft remains endemic in New York City and state. CPD estimates that 2.1 million New Yorkers are cheated out of a cumulative $3.2 billion in wages and benefits they are owed each year. The 11 case studies profiled in the report—from a small bakery to a mid-size construction company to ubiquitous employers like Bank of America and Domino’s—show that wage theft occurs in the form of wage nonpayment or nonpayment of overtime, but also accumulates in ways particular to a sector or job classification.

By “a thousand cuts” to their paychecks—a few minutes worked off-the-clock each day; a five percent “deduction” that employers take out of each tip; a wage that falls below the legal minimum; a uniform that employees must pay to launder each week—many employers are systematically robbing workers of their pay. Advocates report that employers sometimes threaten workers, retaliate against them, or actually fire them for trying to enforce their rights.

The report points to some common-sense first steps in improving wage theft enforcement in the city, state, and beyond, including a robust approach to wage theft research, outreach and education, and enforcement. To dissuade low-road employers, wage theft should be aggressively prosecuted and should result in fines and penalties that outweigh gains made by stealing workers’ wages.

CPD will continue to work with the New York Coalition Against Wage Theft to build the power of workers in 2016 and beyond.