Jessica Ramos’ wage theft bill passes, one signature away from a new reality for New York construction workers
The New York State Senator is closing in on completing a major legislative victory for workers across the state.
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In a victory for New York construction workers, Democrats in the state’s Senate approved a bill that could hold contractors responsible for wage theft committed by subcontractors.
On Wednesday, June 2, Senate bill S4394 was passed, which seeks to end the predatory practice of wage theft in the construction industry by placing liability on contractors and subcontractors.
Now we must pass the #SWEATbill A766/S2762 and ensure workers from all industries in #NYS are protected from #WageTheft!— New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) (@NICE4Workers) June 2, 2021
Thank you Senator @jessicaramos for being our champion on so many fights for our communities! pic.twitter.com/FKuYHnZ4gH
“No New Yorker can or should work for free,” New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, sponsor of the bill, wrote in a tweet.
S4394 passed the Assembly and is now heading to Gov. Cuomo’s desk. If he signs the measure, general contractors could be held liable for or even face civil violations if a subcontractor on a job site is found cheating workers out of their pay.
#WageTheft is not a game, it's the livelihoods of people that have put in an honest day's work & deserve an honest day's pay. New Yorkers deserve every dime they are owed. We must pass the #SWEATBill now! pic.twitter.com/1ZjiaqAD8Z— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) June 3, 2021
Joseph Geiger, the executive secretary-treasurer of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, told New York Daily News that this is a landmark win that will protect exploited workers and return much-needed tax revenue to the state.
Geiger said that the measure will create a “fairer, safer playing field for all hardworking New Yorkers.”
Union leaders across NYC have championed the measure as a way to hold unethical contractors accountable.
On Monday, May 24, the New York State Building and Construction Council held a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building in Albany in support of the legislation, advocating for protection of their workers, as well as overtime and benefits.
Last week, in a historic show of worker power, #DayLaborers & #UnionWorkers came together in #Albany with @jessicaramos & @JoinJoyner to fight for the #WageTheft Protection Act #S2766. It passed the #NYSAssembly yesterday & up for a vote in the #NYSSenate today! #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/K88WzaZGJc— New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) (@NICE4Workers) June 2, 2021
According to bill’s supporters, many of the exploited workers are non-union or undocumented immigrants. In 2017, around 2.1 million New York residents lost $3.2 billion of income due to wage theft, according to a study by the Center for Popular Democracy.
Manuel Castro, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), told AMNY that wage theft takes advantage of the state’s most vulnerable workers.
“Our hard working immigrant workers deserve better, and New York lawmakers have the opportunity right now to show these workers that their livelihoods and their wellbeing matters,” Castro said.
Thank you #NYSAssembly for passing the #WageTheftAct to protect exploited construction workers from #wagetheft. Congrats to @JoinJoyner for leading the charge! Come on @NYSenate let’s carry this over the finish line and pass this pro-worker legislation! #carpentersRISE pic.twitter.com/hanPObX5xR— NYC District Council of Carpenters (@CarpentersNyc) June 2, 2021
If signed, S4394 would grant general contractors new authority to supervise the books of subcontractors to better secure the fair and complete wages of all workers.
“Under the incredible leadership of our Senate Majority Leader, the New York State Senate is taking action to protect construction workers from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are stolen from them every year by unscrupulous contractors and subcontractors,” said Ramos.
Typically, a worker will file a lawsuit against their direct employer to recover their wages. The bill would ensure that construction managers are liable for the actions of their employees and it gives the industry more incentive to “better self-police,” according to a legislative memo.
The latest version of the bill, which was originally introduced in January, offers a few liability exceptions, permitting construction managers to withhold wages in cases where subcontractors do not provide certain payroll information.
Liability is also limited in cases where legal action has been taken. In this case, managers are obligated to compensate for wage theft that occurred no more than three years before the claim was filed in court.
Gary LaBarbera, president of the state and city chapters of the Building and Construction Trades Council, said that the measure is an excellent tool to fight back against wage theft for all workers on privately-funded projects.
“From day-one, this legislation was all about putting the interests of working people ahead of those of unscrupulous contractors in the construction industry,” LaBarbera said in a statement.