Make Wage Theft a Felony
The Wage Theft Accountability Act aims to classify wage theft as larceny, and can add jail time to stiff financial penalties.
Many people involved in New York's construction industry believe the sting of jail time and a felony conviction are needed to curtail rampant wage theft. -- ronstik/Alamy
Last Thursday, over 1,000 members of the NYC District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC) joined forces with prosecutors and politicians on the steps of the New York Public Library, rallying in support of a new law that would criminalize wage theft. If passed, The Wage Theft Accountability Act would be a major win for workers across New York, particularly in the construction industry.
Too many dishonest, non-union contractors have resorted to a "steal from the poor, give to themselves" business approach, engaging in the most deplorable form of corner-cutting—wage theft. Wage theft disproportionately affects New York City's most vulnerable workers: the undocumented and non-unionized. It results in over $3 billion being stolen from 2.1 million New Yorkers each year. In the construction industry, wage theft is used by unscrupulous developers to artificially lower bids, win contracts, and line their own pockets. Wage theft is not an accident or an oversight. It is a crime, and it's time we treat it as such.
Dishonest non-union contractors have resorted to a "steal from the poor, give to themselves" business approach.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, sponsor of the new bill, rallied with over 1,000 union construction workers.
Recently, progress has been made in combating wage theft. Notably, the signing of an improved Wage Theft Bill, championed by State Senator Jessica Ramos, holds prime contractors accountable for fines and penalties when wage theft occurs on their job sites.
But as it stands, many non-union contractors treat the fines and penalties associated with wage theft as a cost of doing business— worth it if it means they can bid lower and win more jobs. The Wage Theft Accountability Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, aims to end this practice. By categorizing wage theft as larceny and treating offenders as criminals, developers would no longer be able to simply pay a fine and walk away when caught stealing wages.
A New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC) member voices his support for criminalizing wage theft.
Prosecutors like Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez back the bill, saying it would open up a consequential new avenue for stopping bad actors. The bill is also supported by New York City's construction unions, who do not engage in wage theft and would welcome a more level playing field when bidding on projects.
Joseph Geiger, executive secretary-treasurer of the NYCDCC, speaking at the rally summed up the frustration workers across New York are feeling: "It’s like these contractors think they’re above the law. Maybe they need more of an incentive to play by the rules. Maybe they need to face real consequences for robbing from the working men and women of this city.”
Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.
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