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“This Is A Monumental Victory For Working People All Across New York State” - The New York State Legislature Passes Two Wage-Theft Bills

Published Sunday, June 6, 2021
by Steve Wishnia/
“This Is A Monumental Victory For Working People All Across New York State” - The New York State Legislature Passes Two Wage-Theft Bills

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - Both houses of the New York State Legislature have passed a Bill that would hold general contractors on private construction jobs jointly responsible for wage-theft violations committed by subcontractors on the site.

The Bill, sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos (Democrat-Queens) and Assembly Member Latoya Joyner (Democrat-Bronx), passed the Senate by a 50-to-13 vote last week.

The Assembly, which had approved an earlier version in January, passed the revised measure by a vote of 122-to-25 on June 1st.

“This is a monumental victory for Working People all across New York State,” Gary LaBarbera, who serves as President of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Governor Cuomo to enshrine this protection into law to ensure that all Construction Workers - no matter their background, Union affiliation, or the jobsite they work on - are afforded the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The Bill was the New York Building Trades Unions’ top legislative priority this year, District Council of Carpenters Executive Director Eddie McWilliams told LaborPress in April.

Five states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar Laws, according to the Unions.

Estimates of the amount of pay stolen from Workers in New York State range from $500 million to $3.2 billion a year.

Common forms of wage theft include: Simply not paying Workers; Not paying them for all the hours they worked; Not paying overtime; and hiring them off the books or as Independent Contractors to evade having to pay minimum wages and make contributions to the State’s Unemployment Insurance and Workers’ Compensation Funds.

Wage theft is believed to be most common in construction and the hospitality industry.

The victims are often Immigrants - especially the undocumented - and Day Laborers, Women in low wage jobs, and Workers hired through middlemen such as “labor brokers.”

It is often difficult to determine exactly who is responsible for paying workers, McWilliams explained, because sleazy subcontractors often create a network of shell companies to blur the paper trail.

Still, he argued, general contractors have to identify every Worker on their job for insurance purposes and to document that they’ve all received the required basic safety training. 

“There’s no way they can’t know who’s on the job,” he said in April. “What they don’t want to know, or be responsible for, is the wage theft that goes on.”

The Bill would require subcontractors to give general contractors “Certified Payroll Records” if requested.

Those records, it says, should contain enough information to show the subcontractor’s status on paying wages and making payments for benefits. 

General contractors would also be able to request the names of all the subcontractor’s Workers, including those designated as Independent Contractors, the starting date and the scheduled duration of work; and the name, address, and phone number of a person to contact. 

Failing to comply with those requests on time would be a legal ground for a contractor to withhold payments owed to a subcontractor. 

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