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New Bill Aims to Protect Worker Pay
Crain's New York
Adrianne Pasquarelli

March 12, 2010
View the Original Article

Politicians and union executives gathered in front of trendy retailer Scoop's SoHo outpost Friday morning to announce a new state bill designed to uphold fair wage practices for all New Yorkers.

“Wage theft not only hurts hardworking families who are trying to make ends meet in this difficult economy, but also hurts New York state taxpayers,” said state Sen. Diane Savino, who is a sponsor of the bill, along with state Rep. Carl Heastie. The bill amends New York labor law by increasing penalties for wage law violations, such as failure to pay minimum wage and overtime, and increasing protection for workers who come forward to complain.

About 30 people were present on Friday, including members of the Coalition to Prevent Wage Theft & Protect Responsible Businesses, comprised of activist groups such as Make the Road New York, small businesses and low-income workers. Wage theft losses equal more than $18.4 million a week—or $1 billion a year—according to the coalition.

The group chose Scoop as the conference site because of the store's history with workers. Last July, a group of employees filed a $500,000 lawsuit alleging failure to pay overtime, unlawful termination and discrimination. The suit has not yet been settled.

“New York has become a free-fire zone for the abuse of low wage workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, at the press conference. “This vital piece of legislation must be passed now,” he added.

Also in attendance Friday was Modesto Toribio, an immigrant worker who has spent six years as a cashier at a Brooklyn shop where she says she makes less than the $7.25 minimum wage. She explained that she initially made $5 an hour and still makes only $6.60. The announced legislation aims to change that type of practice.