Albany, NY Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal was joined by members of the SWEAT Coalition and State Senator Jessica Ramos at a press conference in Albany to call for passage of the SWEAT (Securing Wages Earned Against Theft) Bill, which would help protect employees against wage theft by allowing them to petition a court to place a lien on the assets of an employer accused of wage theft.
New York made history by being among the first states to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour, but that victory is pyrrhic unless employees can collect the wages they worked hard to earn, said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. The SWEAT bill will ensure that a judgment for earned wages is worth more than the piece of paper its written on by allowing workers to file a lien against the assets of their employer.
"Today, loopholes in New York law fail to hold bad faith employers accountable for failing to pay workers their hard-earned wages. That is why I am fighting with Assemblymember Rosenthal to pass the SWEAT Bill, which will place a lien on employers assets until they pay their workers every last cent," said Senator Jessica Ramos (D/WF-Queens), Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor.
Wage theft continues to be a serious problem in New York State. The United States Department of Labor estimates that $1 billion in wage theft occurs each year in the State of New York alone. A 2015 report issued by the SWEAT Coalition revealed that there were more than 62 unpaid wage theft judgments totaling more than $28 million owed to 284 workers. Employees often learn that the hard work comes after they win a judgment, since unscrupulous employers often file for bankruptcy, sell the business or hide behind a maze of shadowy LLCs to avoid paying a judgment for earned wages.
The millions of dollars in unpaid wage theft judgments represent more than justice left unserved, it is months of rent, a weeks worth of groceries and new school shoes for the daughter or son who has just experienced a growth spurt, said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. Sadly, the majority of wage theft cases involve minimum wage violations, meaning that the most vulnerable New Yorkers, those living paycheck to paycheck, are being the hardest hit. For these working families, a weeks pay often means the difference between buying food and paying rent.
The bill would expand the existing lien law to allow workers outside the construction industry to lien against their employers real or personal property. To use the lien, an aggrieved employee must show that that they are likely to win their wage theft case. Once the employee has met this burden, the court will temporarily attach the property while the case is ongoing to ensure that if successful, the employee can ultimately collect.
Employers who follow the rules and pay their employees should support this effort, said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. The bill does not create any new liability or responsibility, but instead streamlines the process and helps to balance the scales of justice in favor of aggrieved employees, who for years have been denied millions of dollars in back pay at the hands of their unscrupulous employers.
Our coalition, which includes over 80 organizations throughout NYS, has been advocating for the SWEAT bill for years now. With each passing year, more workers have joined the unfortunate ranks of those being cheated of their wages, having the courage to come forward, but then being victimized again by our broken system. We need to stop this now. We need to support workers who come forward and make sure they recover their hard earned wages. This will prevent employers from committing wage theft in the future and protect and promote employers who do right by their employees, said Sarah Ahn, on behalf of the SWEAT Coalition.
"New York State's workers deserve to get paid the wages they earn through their hard work. It's time we close the loopholes that allow scofflaw employers to cheat their workers and evade accountability, said David Colodny, Director of Legal Services, Catholic Migration Services.
"The minimum-wage has increased to $15 but many workers in New York aren't getting paid the minimum wage. We've surveyed hundreds of workers and found that delivery workers are still paid as little as $2 or $3 an hour; busboys as little as $1.25 an hour; and home care workers only $15 for 13 of the 24 hours of their shift. Why? Because their bosses can get away with it because the law is weak. That's why we need SWEAT now!" said Carlos Rodriguez Herrera, restaurant worker and member of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.
"This legislation is badly needed to fight against the state's wage theft epidemic. SWEAT will protect workers who are deprived of their hard-earned pay, good faith businesses who are harmed by unfair competition, and the state when it is cheated of revenue and payroll taxes. Empire Justice Center thanks bill sponsors Assembly member Linda Rosenthal and Senator Jessica Ramos for their leadership on this issue. We look forward to seeing this critical legislation passed in both houses before the end of the legislative session," said Kristin Brown, Vice President for Policy & Government Relations at Empire Justice Center, a statewide civil legal aid organization.
Every day we see the realities of how nail salon workers are negatively affected by owners that dont respect workers rights and don't follow existing labor laws. In an industry plagued by wage theft, owners should not be able to exploit loopholes and avoid accountability. All workers deserve to work with dignity and respect and must be able to take action and defend their rights through effective enforcement mechanisms. Proper tools like the SWEAT bill will hold unscrupulous owners accountable and protect workers rights," said Luis Gomez, Organizing Director, Workers United, SEIU NYNJ Joint Board.
Hunger Action Network of New York State is all too aware of the struggle many low wage workers have feeding themselves and their families. We have fought for many years for a living minimum wage so that full time workers are able to meet their basic needs. Increasing wages does little good for families if unscrupulous employers steal them. We need living wages but we also need protections for all workers from dishonest employers who fail to pay wages due, said Deb Catozzi, Hunger Action Network of NYS.