A new report by the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, the Employment Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice suggests that employers were able to evade labor laws even after courts ordered them to pay $25 million in stolen wages to workers.
The report, “Empty Judgments: The Wage Collection Crisis in New York,” also states that the New York State Department of Labor has not been able to collect $100 million in recent wages owed to workers.
“There is an illusion that if workers stand up for their rights and win in court, they will actually be paid their hard-earned wages,” said Amy Tai, senior staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center, in a statement.“But in the cases that we identified, employers not only violated the labor laws, they continued to disregard the laws by refusing to show up in court and participate in the legal process, creating sham corporations to evade liability and hiding property and assets to avoid eventual judgments.”
Some other findings in the report include workers in the restaurant and construction industry being particularly affected by their inability to collect wages owed by their employers; 69 percent of the cases identified in the report were default judgments in which the employer disregarded the legal process by refusing to show up in court; and 74 percent of the amount of wages the Department of Labor determined to be owed to workers were based on minimum wage violations.
The report’s release coincides with the introduction of Bill A5501, known as the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) bill, by New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. The bill would expand existing mechanisms in state law to better help workers collect wages they’re owed.
“Currently, aggrieved employees who are often owed thousands of dollars in compensation win their wages back in court but have little to no ability to compel their employer to pay up,” said Rosenthal in a statement. “Since the days of Saigon Grill, I have been working to assist employees fighting for their due and from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers, and this legislation is a natural extension of that work to empower employees.”