June 2, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Advocates for low-wage earners across the city have launched a new campaign to help workers strike back against unscrupulous employers who continue to cheat their employees out of cash.
Volunteers with Make the Road New York [MRNY] were in Washington Heights this weekend where they directly engaged workers from the largely Latino community about their rights, and encouraged them to come forward with ongoing workplace abuses.
“New York has the best [anti-wage theft] protections in the country, and we want people to know that they can use these protections if they get stuck in a situation where their employer is not paying them according to New York State labor laws,” MRNY organizer Julissa Bisono told LaborPress.
Earlier this year, the Urban Justice Center, Legal Aid Society and National Center for Law and Economic Justice issued a report finding bad bosses owed New Yorkers as much as $125 million in pinched wages.
The scope of the wage theft problem is actually nationwide, with some government officials describing it as unprecedented.
Maria Tenesaca, a 46-year-old former bakery worker from Jackson Heights, Queens, said on Sunday that her ex-boss managed to withhold a total $10,000 from her paycheck over a five-year period.
“We didn’t get any breaks, no lunch and no overtime,” the mother of three said.
The Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010, along with additional amendments made to the law last year, clearly gives New York workers a leg up over their poorly protected counterparts in other states.
At the same time, however, worker advocates here continue to see rampant abuses across many different industries, largely because government enforcement remains inadequate and funding chronically insufficient.
“There are simply not enough resources right now,” Bisono said.
A strong element of fear among workers is only compounding the problem. Many low-wage earners working in disparate fields ranging from building construction to food services, continue to be too afraid to speak out about wage theft in the face of unchecked employer intimidation and retaliation.
Luz Perez says she kept working silently at a laundromat in Astoria, Queens for eight months even though her former employer regularly cheated workers out of overtime pay.
“A lot of times, we worked more than 10 hours a day,” she said.
A newly released audit from the State Comptroller’s Office, indicates that officials are stepping up wage theft enforcement, last year successfully recouping in excess of $30 million for some 27,000 cheated workers in New York. That represents a 35 percent increase from the previous year.
Last year, Alphonso David, deputy secretary for Civil Rights, told LaborPress that the majority of wage theft cases were being processed in less than six months, with almost 75 percent of 2012’s cases successfully investigated.
Be that as it may, worker advocates are keeping up the fight against wage theft. MRNY’s next outreach effort will take place in Queens on June 28. Other events around the city and Long Island will continue through the fall.