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NY Wage Theft, Prevailing Wage Enforcement Bills Resulting in Impactful Backpay, Restitution

Comptroller Scott Stringer, prevailing wage enforcer

Comptroller Scott Stringer, prevailing wage enforcer

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A pair of initiatives in New York state are beginning to pay off for workers who fall victim to wage theft.  Both are aimed at protecting vulnerable workers, particularly those with varying levels of immigration status, from unscrupulous employers who seek to cheat the system. 

In July, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new Anti-Retaliation unit made up of attorneys and investigators to end retaliation against workers who complain of violations.  Now, the unit has announced that it secured the immediate reinstatement of two fired workers after it was discovered that they had been living in an illegal basement apartment in exchange for performing janitorial work.  When the Department of Labor found the workers had been victims of wage theft and were thus owed back wages, Pinnacle Holdings fired the workers and issued them an eviction notice.  Within 48 hours of receiving the phone call from the workers the anti-retaliation unit advised Pinnacle Holdings to cease illegal retaliatory action.  In addition to getting their jobs back, the workers, Fernando Puerta and Mario Gil, will receive $68,000 in restitution.  

In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said of the case:

“There is zero tolerance for those who seek to exploit workers and rob them of the wages they rightfully earned.  This administration will continue to do everything within its power to ensure that a fair day’s pay is paid for a fair day’s work in New York State.”

Acting New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon added:

“The state of New York protects its workers. Regardless of immigration status, income bracket, gender or race, worker exploitation and retaliation against those who speak out will not be tolerated in our state. Through the Governor’s Task Force to End Worker Exploitation and the Anti-Retaliation Unit, the state Labor Department will continue working to ensure that every worker’s rights are fully protected.”

Another initiative announced in August, developed by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, sought to find more than 1,000 workers owed money for not being properly paid on prevailing wage projects.  The focus was the workers who may have moved out of the area or may fear retaliation due to their immigration status and are nervous about coming forward to claim their wages.  A total of $3.7 million in lost wages is estimated.

Earlier this month, the Comptroller’s office announced that it had identified 53 of the workers and provided them with a total of $351,791 in underpayments and interest.  The workers currently live in such diverse places as: Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Westchester County, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mexico, Portugal and Poland.

In a statement, Stringer said of the effort:

“This will be a holiday season to remember for the dozens of hard working New Yorkers who are finally receiving the wages they are owed.  But what we’ve achieved so far is just the beginning. My office will continue to work with community groups, our partners in government and the media to help get the word out about this unclaimed money.  

Thousands of hard-working individuals, many of whom are immigrants, have been cheated out of their rightfully-earned wages. If contactors break the law, we force them to pay their workers the wages to which they are entitled – and this is true regardless of the workers’ immigration status.”

Since taking office in January of 2014, Stringer has been vigilant in enforcing prevailing wage standards in the city.  So far the Comptroller’s Office has assessed more than $13 million dollars owed to workers on city projects and has suspended 30 contractors from doing business due to prevailing wage violations.  

Meg Fosque, Director of Low-Wage Organizing at Make the Road Action Fund, said:

“In Scott Stringer we have a Comptroller who is truly a champion for working New Yorkers. We commend his commitment to identifying and compensating workers who are still owed thousands of dollars of unpaid prevailing wages. Wage theft is still a serious issue in New York City, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Comptroller as we advocate on behalf of working-class families and immigrant communities.”

Also supporting the Comptroller’s efforts was Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, who said:

“We applaud Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office for taking initiative to make sure that New Yorkers who have been unfairly cheated out of wages get the compensations that they deserve.  Rampant wage theft remains a reality for New York’s most vulnerable communities, many of whom are immigrants and we must send a message to employers and companies that this will not be tolerated.”

If you believe you are owed back wages from a New York City prevailing wage project, you can use the tools provided by the Comptroller’s website to claim your back pay.


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