Albany, NY (December 14, 2010) -
Governor David A. Paterson today signed into law S.8380/A.11726, the Wage Theft Prevention Act, which addresses the failure by employers to pay statutorily-mandated minimum wages and overtime by requiring annual notifications of wages, expanding notifications, enhancing available remedies for wage law violations and strengthening whistleblower protections. The Governor also announced that he has acted on ten additional bills.
"At a time when so many New Yorkers are living paycheck to paycheck, it is vital that we protect the right to receive their hard-earned pay and afford them every protection against wage theft," Governor Paterson said. "I am proud to sign this legislation, which will combat misconduct by unscrupulous employers who fail to pay statutorily-mandated minimum wages and overtime. I commend the bill's sponsors, Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, for their efforts in securing passage of this bill."
The bill would enact a wide-ranging series of measures to provide information to workers on the wages they are owed, and to heighten sanctions on those who fail to pay their workers the compensation to which they are entitled.
The Wage Theft Prevention Act:
• Enacts more stringent and transparent record-keeping and employee notification requirements.
• Increases the amount of wages that can be recovered as damages in a suit for non-payment over and above the lost wages themselves - from 25 percent to 100 percent, the amount allowable under Federal law;
• Creates stronger collection tools;
• Raises criminal penalties for failure to pay minimum wage to up to a year in prison and $5,000 fine; and
• Strengthens protections for whistleblowers in cases involving wage violations.
The following statements were provided in support of the Governor signing the Wage Theft Prevention Act into law:
Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said: "For decades, employees have seen their wages and overtime pay unfairly withheld by some unethical employers, and they have had little legal recourse. Fortunately, this legislation will change that and it will have a significant impact during this tough economic period. I applaud bill sponsors Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Carl Heastie for this important effort to ensure those who work get paid, fairly and equitably."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said: "Denying workers their wages violates the worker-employer principals that are the lifeline of our economy. This legislation protects against wage theft by expanding the rights of workers to recover the wages owed to them, and it cracks down on violators with tougher statutory measures. I commend Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the bill's sponsor, for his commitment to fight wage theft practices and protect the rights of workers."
Senator Diane Savino said: "They say that New York is the safest big city in the world. Tell that to the thousands of New Yorkers who are robbed each week by their employers. For too long, penalties for employers who steal or underpay their workers have been so low, that it was simply the cost of doing business. This practice has hurt hard-working New Yorkers, it's put honest businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and has robbed millions of dollars in revenues from our fiscally strapped State and local governments. Today's signing of the Wage Theft Prevention Act has sent a message out to the thousands of workers who are simply trying to provide for their families-New York is a much safer place now."
Assemblyman Carl Heastie said: "This common sense law will protect workers and also, bring more fairness to the workplace. By protecting workers from wage theft, we protect families and we protect everyone's quality of life. I thank my colleagues in the State Legislature, the advocates, and the Governor for bringing this victory for working men and women to fruition."
Deborah Axt, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York, said: "By signing the Wage Theft Prevention Act, Governor Paterson makes a commitment that New York State will finally stand up for workers, crack down on lawless employers, and use the power of the State to ensure fair, treatment for vulnerable, low-wage immigrant workers."
Sergio Guzman, Member of New York Communities for Change – Workers' Committee, said: "This is a great step forward for all workers, especially those who work the lowest income jobs in New York State and are routinely cheated out of wages. As a worker myself who was paid below the minimum wage and cheated out of overtime, I applaud the Governor and the Legislature for this historic passage."
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said: "The Wage Theft Prevention Act is a landmark bill that will increase penalties and strengthen enforcement against low road employers and give workers the protections they need and deserve. My union and I are proud to have been a part of the coalition that strongly supported this legislation and helped moved it through the legislative process in Albany."
Christopher D. Lamb, Executive Director for MFY Legal Services, Inc., said: "This legislation underscores that the failure to pay wages that are earned is nothing more or less than theft and finally provides civil and criminal penalties that recognize this reality."
Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director with the National Employment Law Project, said: "By enacting this critical legislation, New York joins a growing number of states nationwide, including Massachusetts, Illinois, and New Mexico, that are ramping up the fight against wage theft. By stiffening the penalties, protecting workers who come forward, and ensuring that unpaid wages are collected, the new law provides the tools we need to ensure justice for the hundreds of thousands of workers in New York who are impacted each year."