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Prosecuting Unscrupulous Employers to End Wage Theft

Since 2011 the NYS Department of Labor has recovered almost $100 million for victims of wage theft. Photo credit: Scott Richard/Flickr.com.
Since 2011 the NYS Department of Labor has recovered almost $100 million for victims of wage theft. Photo credit: Scott Richard/Flickr.com.
August 25, 2015

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Workers at a Brooklyn cleaning service say their boss took them to the cleaners, and he now faces charges of wage theft.

The employees were promised $10 to $14 an hour to clean houses and apartments, working shifts up to 16 hours long, but often weren't paid what they were owed – and sometimes not paid at all.

Elizabeth Joynes, supervising attorney for the Workplace Justice Team at Make the Road New York, says the same thing happens in restaurants, construction jobs and factories.

"Wage theft is rampant in New York. It has been built into the business model of a lot of these industries," she says.

The owner of the cleaning service was arrested last week and charged with stealing wages from at least five employees. If convicted, he could be forced to pay each worker double the amount they were owed.

One of the workers who is owed more than $2,000 had contacted the Workplace Justice Team, which helped bring her complaint to the Kings County District Attorney's office. Joynes says the victims of wage theft are often reluctant to complain, fearing they might lose what little pay they do get – or worse.

"They are preying on the most vulnerable low-wage workers," says Joynes. "And a large percentage of those workers in New York are immigrants."

According to Make the Road New York, the legal representation and organizing it provides has helped exploited workers collect more than $15 million in back wages and damages.

Joynes says bringing charges against unscrupulous employers is an important part of the effort to end wage theft.

"We really need to raise public awareness, and change the calculation of owners by making it more costly to risk being caught," she says.

Make the Road New York says more needs to be done, including giving additional resources to the state Department of Labor and other enforcement agencies.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY