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Workers Rally for Anti-Wage Theft Bill

Workers say loopholes in New York labor laws undermine recent minimum-wage increases. (Photo: Zishun Ning)
Workers say loopholes in New York labor laws undermine recent minimum-wage increases. (Photo: Zishun Ning)
March 3, 2020

NEW YORK -- We need the SWEAT Bill now. That's the message workers delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.

The SWEAT bill would expand the existing mechanics' lien law that helps contractors secure payment from building owners to allow hourly workers to collect when employers refuse to pay. Sarah Ahn, an organizer with the Flushing Workers Center, noted New York's current labor laws are full of loopholes that let employers who cheat their workers evade responsibility.

"They transfer their assets, they close down and reopen their shops, they come to court and they say, 'Oh, we have no money,'" Ahn said. "Meanwhile, they're still often times operating business."

The bill passed both houses of the state Legislature last year before stalling in the governor's office until he vetoed it on January 1, citing due-process concerns.

But Ahn pointed out that legislators chose to expand mechanics' lien legislation as a basis for the SWEAT bill because it has been used successfully for years.

"In fact, Wisconsin did the exact same thing where they expanded the mechanics' lien to be accessible to all workers because they saw this precise problem that New York state has," she said.

With the governor's veto, the Legislature would have to pass the bill again and hope a new version will become law.

Ahn said the workers at rallies in New York City, Binghamton and Buffalo are urging legislators to include the SWEAT bill with this year's budget bills that must be passed by April 1.

"We want this bill as soon as possible," she said. "We fought for it for many, many years, and each year that we couldn't get it done, the problem of wage theft has been getting worse in the state."

The workers have vowed to stage rallies every month until the SWEAT bill becomes law.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY