The city carpenters union joined with prosecutors Thursday to put fear into law-breaking construction contractors.
As part of a day of action against tax fraud in the union construction industry, the New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC) gathered around 1,000 members on the steps of the New York Public Library in Midtown to push a state bill that would make wage theft a felony.
In recent months, Governor Kathy Hochul and state and New York City district attorneys have bolstered the effort to increase prosecution of wage theft especially in the construction and real estate development industries. Prosecutors say turning it into a crime would give them another avenue to go after bad actors.
The state legislation also stems from the delays workers can face filing cases through the state Department of Labor.
“If your employer decides that this week he doesn’t need to pay you or he doesn’t wanna pay you, you only can go to the Department of Labor and good luck with that. That’s gonna take a couple of years and your family can’t wait,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, a sponsor of the legislation that passed the Senate but not the Assembly last year.
Cruz said that the legislation would add a new deterrent against abusive employers. “No longer can employers steal wages and call it the cost of business,” she said.
District Attorneys throughout the city have heeded the call to focus on wage theft. In February Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg unveiled a unit aimed at investigating and prosecuting wage theft, citing a statistic that wage theft accounts for nearly $1 billion in lost wages each year and affects tens of thousands of workers, according to Cornell University’s Worker Institute.
“So far in the several years I’ve been district attorney, over $3 million in restitution have been paid back to workers. So this bill, the wage theft and accountability law will allow me to do more,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “It will allow me not only to collect restitution and pay back workers often years later, but it’ll allow me to be able to prosecute these cases in the Supreme Court.”
Carpenters union leadership full-heartedly endorsed the heavier punishment for corrupt employers.
“It’s like these contractors think that they’re above law or something. Maybe they need more of an incentive to play by the rules. Maybe they need to face some real consequences for robbing from the pockets of the working man and woman of this city,” said Joseph Geiger, executive secretary-treasurer of the NYCDCC.
The rally by the city carpenters union was coordinated for a large-scale day of political action against tax fraud with the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, an umbrella construction union that covers New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Another goal of the day was to raise awareness about employers who misclassify their hires as “off the books” to avoid federal and local taxes.
“It is sadly no surprise that many of the same contractors who steal wages from their workers also steal taxes from the taxpayer,” said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander at the event.