Governor Paterson Announces Record Level of Recovered Wages Returned to New Yorkers in 2009
$28.8 Million Returned to Nearly 18,000 Workers; Second Straight Year of Record Collections for the Department of Labor
Albany, NY (December 31, 2009) - Can't See the video? Click Here to Get Adobe Flash Player. Governor David A. Paterson today announced that New York State recovered record levels of illegally underpaid wages for workers in 2009. Through enhanced enforcement of existing labor laws, the State Department of Labor collected and disbursed $28.8 million to nearly 18,000 New York workers. For the second year in a row, these recovered wages represent the largest amount of money the Labor Department has collected and distributed in its 100 plus years of existence.
"At a time when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are out of work, it is unconscionable to think that those who are working are not getting paid properly," Governor Paterson said. "In State government, we strive every day to give a voice to millions of New York residents. I encourage others victimized by wage theft across the State to come forward and let us help you."
In 2009, the Labor Department's Division of Labor Standards distributed more than $19.8 million to approximately 15,000 workers. The division, which enforces minimum wage, overtime, child labor and other basic labor laws, has overhauled its approach over the past few years. Now, investigators launch proactive and targeted sweeps instead of relying solely on complaints. They conduct investigations at night and on weekends and coordinate extensively with other labor law enforcement agencies.
During the same period, the Department's Bureau of Public Work disbursed more than $9 million to nearly 2,600 workers. The Bureau enforces the State's prevailing wage law, which regulates the wages to be paid to employees on public work projects, or projects built by government entities for public purposes. The Bureau often uncovers serious violations, where companies willfully underpay workers despite having experience with or knowledge of the law's requirements.
State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith said: "Governor Paterson has given us the tools to enforce the labor law here and the results speak for themselves. This was a great year for workers with record collection numbers, but frankly, nothing would please me more than if at this time next year, Governor Paterson issued an announcement stating that the Labor Department tried and tried, but unfortunately, every employer in the State complied with labor law in 2010 and we have nothing further to report. Until that day comes, however, we'll continue to vigorously enforce the law in all corners of the State."
In 2009, Governor Paterson signed a new law to expand protections for workers who exercise their rights under State labor law. The law increases the civil penalties against employers who retaliate against employees for reporting violations. The minimum fine went from $200 to $2,000 and the maximum fine from $1,000 to $10,000. The law also allows the Commissioner of Labor to award lost compensation to workers who have been victims of employer retaliation. While New York's labor law has long prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who report violations to the Labor Department, the new law signed by the Governor greatly strengthens that protection.
The Governor also recently announced New York's inclusion in the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, a government coalition working to create and enforce standards for bulk purchases. The members wish to stop buying from contractors that break labor laws by producing goods in sweatshops - a movement known as "sweatfree" procurement.
Labor Standards investigations throughout the State in 2009 show the extent and scope of the violations:
In 2009, 28 contractors were debarred from doing any further work on NYS Public Work projects. One case is STS Construction of WNY, Inc. in Erie County. In this instance, the department concluded 16 workers were owed $50,191 collectively on four projects. Each of these workers received full restitution of wages.
The State Department of Labor encourages employers and workers to contact the department with any questions about labor and/or unemployment insurance laws. We offer information on the department's website at www.labor.ny.gov, or by phone at 1-888-52-LABOR.