100+ Workers Across NY Rally to Call for the Inclusion of Empire Worker Protection Act in New York State’s Budget

Support for the EmPIRE Act substantially grows as over 100 workers, labor leaders from across New York join elected officials to spotlight bill’s unique mechanism to stop wage theft and significantly boost funds for NYS Department of Labor

Albany, New York – On Tuesday, over 100 workers from across New York – representing an expanding coalition of unions, community organizations and social agencies – rallied with Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and new prime sponsor Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon to demand the inclusion of the EmPIRE Worker Protection Act in the state’s budget.

"It should be a given that workers are paid for the wages they have earned, but there is an unconscionable amount of wage theft in New York. Wage theft impacts so many hard-working New Yorkers, particularly lower wage workers, people of color, and women. The Empire Act will empower affected workers to recover civil penalties as private attorneys general, a common mechanism in civil rights laws. It will encourage labor organizations to support members in filing violations, and bring over $100 million to the DOL annually, enabling it to hire more enforcement and other staff. The revenue-generating Empire Act must be included in the state's budget. Thanks to Senator Holyman-Sigal and the strong coalition of advocates who are committed to ensuring justice for workers,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

Wage theft dwarfs other types of theft in the United States, with one estimate putting the amount owed workers at $50 billion per year, including $3 billion in New York. A Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) report titled Making Rights Real: How the Whistleblower Enforcement Model Can Address the Crisis in Labor Rights Enforcement shows how overburdened and underfunded state Departments of Labor lead to unscrupulous employers – who bet on the low likelihood of getting caught and penalized – violate workers' rights to pad their profits. The bill would cement labor protections by allowing workers and labor organizations to file legal claims for violations on behalf of the NYSDOL and AG for civil penalties to expand NYSDOL’s staffing and enforcement capacity. A new report by the Center for Popular Democracy estimates the Act will generate over $100 million every year for the NYSDOL.

“An estimated $3.2 billion in wages are stolen from hard working New Yorkers every year. Though the Department of Labor does their best to recover this stolen money, the agency is severely underfunded and understaffed, leaving them unable to adequately enforce every labor violation that takes place. We can help the Department of Labor get this money back into the pockets of the New Yorkers who earned it by passing the EMPIRE Worker Protection Act (S541A). This bill would allow everyday workers, and their unions, to initiate public enforcement actions on behalf of the Department of Labor. California has had a similar law in place for over 20 years, which has not only returned millions of dollars to Californians, but also

has generated tens of millions of dollars annually, including $209 million in 2022, to provide their labor agency with additional funding and resources. Estimates have shown that in New York, the EMPIRE ACT could generate even more revenue, as much as $103 million annually, for our own Department of Labor. This funding would leave the agency better equipped to handle all of their duties, including the recovery of stolen wages. We must follow California’s lead and allow New Yorkers explore all possible avenues to blow the whistle on exploitation and recover stolen wages,” said Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.

"New York is home to some of the strongest labor and wage laws in the country, but workers need more support. With the EmPIRE Act, workers facing crimes of wage theft will be able to more quickly access the legal and enforcement support they need to recover stolen or lost wages. The Mason Tenders are proud to join our coalition partners, bill sponsors and legislative allies today in Albany to support such vital labor legislation,” said David Bolger, Business Manager of the Mason Tenders' District Council of Greater New York.

“Laborers Local 79 is proud to join our coalition partners today in Albany today in support of the EmPIRE Act. Wage theft is rampant in the construction industry, and no worker should struggle to support themselves and their families because greedy employers put profit margins over proper pay. The EmPIRE Act will be another ‘tool in the toolkit’ for labor law enforcement and offer the Department of Labor the support they also need to more quickly address crimes of wage theft,” said Michael Prohaska, Business Manager of Laborers Local 79.