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Veto of NY Wage-Theft Bill Draws Criticism

Wage theft costs New York workers an estimated $1 billion a year. (bgton/Adobe Stock)
Wage theft costs New York workers an estimated $1 billion a year. (bgton/Adobe Stock)
January 3, 2020

NEW YORK - Workers' advocates say Gov. Andrew Cuomo had plenty of time to request changes to a bill to help victims of wage theft, but chose to veto the measure instead.

Senate Bill S-2488-B, also known as the Securing Wages Against Theft or "SWEAT" bill, has been introduced in the state Legislature several times in the past five years - but didn't pass both houses until last June.

Cuomo said he had problems with some of the legal provisions in the bill. But Mark Dunlea - chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund - helped introduce it, and says lawmakers have been open to making changes.

"The Assembly Judiciary Committee did take steps to deal with some of the legal issues and the bill was changed," says Dunlea. "And so, to literally wait until the day after New Year's Eve to veto the bill is just outrageous, and shameful."

In vetoing the bill, Cuomo said the state has collected $310 million in stolen wages since 2011, but its supporters say New York workers lose $1 billion a year to wage theft.

Some employers accused of wage theft avoid judgements by transferring their assets to family members and declaring bankruptcy. Dunlea points out that the SWEAT bill would freeze those assets while ensuring that the people accused are treated fairly.

"This would only deal with situations where a lien had already been approved by some type of judicial process," says Dunlea.

He adds that when assets aren't frozen, wage-theft victims who prove their cases often are unable to collect the money they are owed.

Dunlea, who served 30 years as executive director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State, notes that passing the SWEAT bill was an important step to fight wage theft and get justice for some of the state's most vulnerable workers.

"If they're getting a billion dollars stolen out of their paychecks," says Dunlea. "Putting that billion dollars back into their pocket would really help reduce hunger and homelessness in New York state."

The governor says he'll introduce his own version of the SWEAT bill in this year's budget.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY