January 26, 2021
Assembly Passes Legislation to Help Construction Workers Recover Stolen Wages
Speaker Carl Heastie and Labor Committee Chair Latoya Joyner today announced that the Assembly has passed legislation that would provide New York construction workers with a new remedy against wage theft.
“The Assembly Majority has earned its reputation as a champion of workers’ rights by fighting tirelessly to ensure that every hardworking New Yorker is treated fairly and paid appropriately for their work,” said Speaker Heastie. “Wage theft is an abhorrent practice that only hurts workers and their families, and bad actors must be held accountable. This legislation will protect construction workers against unscrupulous employers that steal wages and attempt to avoid legal repercussions.”
“For too long, the livelihood of construction workers has been threatened by the immoral and illegal practice of wage theft,” said bill sponsor Assemblymember Joyner. “Wage theft is a crime of opportunity that disproportionately affects people who are already living paycheck to paycheck. This legislation helps ensure that exploited construction workers have access to a legal remedy that helps them get the money they are owed for their work.”
Under today’s legislation, contractors in the construction industry would be required to assume liability for any wages owed to a worker by a subcontractor acting under, by or for the contractor (A.3350, Joyner). The bill would also allow employees to designate any person, organization or collective bargaining agent to make a wage claim on his or her behalf.
Wage theft is unfortunately prevalent in the construction industry due to the fact that many construction workers are hired through informal agreements, particularly subcontracts, making them more susceptible to wage theft and other violations. Employers in the construction industry may steal wages in a variety of ways including refusing to pay minimum wage, illegal deductions, not paying the appropriate overtime rate, writing bad checks, outright refusing to pay workers and sometimes by misclassifying workers as independent contractors.
In 2010, while serving as chair of the Labor Committee, Speaker Heastie championed the passage of the Wage Theft Prevention Act to empower private sector employees in New York State to recover lost wages that had been withheld by unscrupulous employers, and to close loopholes that had previously allowed for retaliatory action to be taken against employees who complained of or reported wage theft violations. In 2014 and 2015, subsequent amendments were made to further strengthen the Wage Theft Prevention Act by increasing penalties on employers who fail to pay employees for their work and enhancing accountability for such violations.
Since the implementation of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, the New York State Department of Labor has succeeded in recovering nearly $300 million in stolen wages for more than 280,000 workers across the state. Today’s legislation will move us one step closer to ensuring that all New Yorkers receive the lawful wages owed to them.
The Assembly Majority has long been a champion of workers’ rights, including legislation to raise the minimum wage, strengthen equal pay laws, guarantee access to sick leave and establish a robust paid family leave program.