Department of Labor, Attorney General and 7 County DA's Coordinate Efforts to Bring Criminal Actions Against Employers
Multiple Investigations Result in Criminal Charges and Over $1.2 Million To Be Returned to Workers
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the results thus far of a broad partnership with the District Attorneys of all five New York City Counties, Westchester and Nassau Counties and New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to bring criminal charges against contractors who have stolen wages.
Since January 1st, the New York State Department of Labor has referred egregious wage theft cases to prosecutors who have subsequently filed criminal charges. These referrals have resulted in indictments, felony complaints or non-prosecution agreements stemming from investigations across several jurisdictions. Approximately $1.2 million owed to nearly 400 workers has been identified and assessed so far with several cases still ongoing or nearing resolution. Nearly $700,000 has already been returned to workers.
"New York believes in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and has zero tolerance for those who seek to rob employees and deny them the wages they are rightfully owed," Governor Cuomo said. "This crackdown sends a strong and direct message that workers will be protected and the principles of fairness and equality will continue to be upheld in this great state."
"The law is clear: New Yorkers are entitled to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," Attorney General Schneiderman said. "My office has zero tolerance for wage theft. Since 2011, we've recovered nearly $30 million in stolen wages for more than 21,000 workers - and we'll continue to ensure that New York's working families are given the fair shake they deserve."
The recent enforcement crackdown in the downstate construction industry was initiated in response to reports of widespread worker exploitation in the industry. Immigrant workers comprise a disproportionate number of the working population in construction. These workers are more likely to be taken advantage of via wage theft or unsafe working conditions, particularly on non-union construction sites. This enforcement initiative follows similar crackdowns in the nail salon and laundry industries, among others.
The effort is ongoing - the Department of Labor continues to investigate and refer instances of wage theft to law enforcement partners - meaning that more bad actors will be brought to justice and more workers will be made whole.
Notable cases include:
Magnetic Contracting Corp.
J&D Painting Contractors
National Insulation and General Contracting Corp.
Ongoing cases include active investigations in multiple counties, including Brooklyn, Westchester, Richmond and Manhattan.
The prosecuting attorneys who continue to participate in this effort include:
- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
- Bronx DA Darcel D. Clark
- Brooklyn DA-elect Eric Gonzalez
- Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance
- Nassau DA Madeline Singas
- Queens DA Richard A. Brown
- Richmond DA Michael E. McMahon
- Westchester DA Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr.
"Unscrupulous individuals must face the consequences of their actions and Governor Cuomo has made it clear time and again: stealing from hard working New Yorkers is unacceptable." said Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. "Working together with the great prosecutors of this state and the Attorney General gives us another tool to fight for working families. I thank them for not only prosecuting these cases but for creating a model we can build on."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, "Every week, New Yorkers lose $20 million in unpaid wages. And every day, construction workers who risk their lives doing dangerous jobs have to wonder whether they'll actually be paid for their work. Wage theft is one of the most pervasive problems in New York City and State, and in the construction industry in particular, workers are all too often preyed upon by their employers, who are able to steal millions of dollars in unpaid wages. I'm proud and grateful to stand with our partners in law enforcement and government against this type of fraud. As the giving season approaches, it is my hope that the holidays will be that much brighter for the families of more than 300 New Yorkers who will be receiving $500,000 in back pay owed to them."
Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, "In Brooklyn, we are committed to protecting workers and ensuring that they are not cheated out of their hard-earned wages. We have been fighting to hold employers accountable for a long time, and will continue to do so. We are proud to be a part of the Wage Theft Initiative to make certain that businesses across the state are put on notice that stealing from workers is a crime and will be prosecuted."
Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, "Anyone who would exploit construction workers who perform difficult, often dangerous jobs building our city's skyline will be prosecuted and face punishment. The Statewide Wage Theft Initiative empowers us to fight more effectively as partners to ensure wage-fairness, and to stem corruption and fraud in this vital industry. As in the past, the Bronx District Attorney's Office is prepared to investigate and prosecute all offenders who consciously prey on hard-working hardhats. They deserve, as do all workers, to be paid a fair wage for every hour of labor."
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, "The failure to pay wages is a prevalent problem all over New York and in Queens, in particular, due to our large immigrant population. Many immigrant workers who come to the United States are forced to work for private contractors for far below prevailing rates and then only to see their wages withheld or their paychecks bounce for lack of funds. The end result is that the workers are put in the difficult position of complaining and losing their jobs or staying silent and being taken advantage of. In the case being prosecuted in Queens, the employers are alleged to have refused to pay employees the wages agreed upon by both parties."
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said, "Every week, crooked contractors steal millions of dollars from hardworking men and women in the construction industry. Wage theft is a growing problem in our state and it is up to us, as district attorneys, to protect victimized workers and prosecute contractors who break the law. I thank DA Vance, the State Department of Labor, and our law enforcement partners for creating the Wage Theft Initiative. Working together, we will remove the bad actors and protect the dignity of the men and women in New York's building trades."
DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said, "As alleged, these contractors preyed on their workers, using deception and betrayal to steal their pay. This law enforcement initiative to expose and stop construction owners from cheating their employees and then lying to regulators so they can keep going is critical to instilling integrity and stopping these charged crimes. DOI is proud to stand with the Manhattan DA's Office and all our partners to put an end to this type of worker exploitation."
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, "This is about right and wrong—and it's about fairness. That's why I take our authority to set and enforce prevailing wages very seriously, and it's why my office will continue to work with the Attorney General and District Attorneys to bring unscrupulous employers to justice. We're going to work together like never before to track down those who commit serious prevailing wage violations and stand up for the law."
Since Governor Cuomo took office, the State Labor Department has returned more than $150 million in stolen wages to workers, the highest total in the nation.
The New York State Department of Labor is responsible for investigating instances of wage theft. Often, recoveries for workers can be achieved through compliance conferences where employers agree to pay workers what's owed without further administrative action. In egregious cases or cases where employers refuse to pay or seek to hide their assets to avoid making payment, the Department relies on local District Attorneys to prosecute cases.
The overwhelming majority of businesses in the state follow the law, but some of the most common ways bad actors steal wages include:
- Paying tips only;
- Paying a day rate for work performed that is sub-minimum wage when hours worked are counted;
- Not paying an overtime rate for hours worked over 40 in a payroll week;
- Not paying for travel time between work assignments in the same day;
- Withholding final paychecks;
- Not paying for "training" time; and
- Charging employees for required uniforms or equipment.
Building on the success of 2015's first-in-the-nation Exploited Workers Task Force, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 159 in July 2016, establishing a permanent Joint Task Force on Employee Misclassification and Worker Exploitation. The Governor's Executive Order merged three existing multi-agency task forces to coordinate cross-agency efforts designed to protect workers in a variety of industries where they are often victims of abuse but do not come forward for fear of retaliation. Many of these individuals are immigrants and frequent victims of wage theft.
They are often subjected to unsafe or unsanitary working conditions; long and irregular work hours; and illegal deductions for supplies, training, and uniforms. They tend to work off the books, have dangerous jobs, and are often geographically isolated.
Additionally, the Governor created Mediation and Anti-Retaliation Units within the Department of Labor. The Mediation Unit attempts to expedite resolutions so that workers receive the money they're owed more quickly. The Anti-Retaliation Unit acts on behalf of workers who are subject to unfavorable action against them for filing a complaint about labor law violations or reporting them to the authorities.
Anyone who wishes to file a wage theft complaint is encouraged to call 1-888-4-NYSDOL.