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Putting Workers in Charge of Wage Theft Claims

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Now this is an interesting idea coming out of New York:

Labor unions, corporate whistleblowers and — in some cases — individual workers would be able to pursue enforcement of wage theft claims under legislation pushed by Democrats and workers’ rights groups this session,

The legislation proposes a major expansion of New York’s labor law by effectively arming private actors with some state power, as New York grapples with a major backlog of wage theft complaints. 

Wage theft can collectively cost New York employees millions of dollars, but those claims often languish before the state Department of Labor. Multiple media reports in recent months have pointed to the agency’s lack of employees in its enforcement unit and a lack of legal authority to enforce labor laws against employers. 

Known as the Empowering People in Rights Enforcement Worker Protection Act, the proposed legislation would shift some wage enforcement responsibility by allowing private actors to file their own civil claims against employers they accuse of wage theft, and then pursue penalties on their own through the court system. Penalties won under the new system would be split by the workers filing the claim and the Department of Labor. 

According to the legislation, the agency would still have a supervisory role in those cases. Agency spokesman Aaron Cagwin said it does not comment on pending legislation.

Advocates — including a number of labor unions — say the bill would help generate more than $100 million annually in civil penalties against errant employers, funds that would help the agency close staffing backlogs and free up workers to take on more cases. 

I await Kathy Hochul’s veto.

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