On December 13, 2010, New York governor David Paterson signed into law new protections for New York workers against wage theft. This victory comes after months of lobbying by labor unions and immigration activists battling to modernize New York’s labor law, which previously allowed for some $18.4 million per week of workers wages to be stolen from them by their bosses. The measure signifies an important move in the right direction for granting workers more of their fair share for the work they do by imposing harsher penalties on employers who under-pay and garnish worker’s wages while at the same time providing greater protections for would-be whistle-blowers.
The Backwardness of NY Labor Law
These measures come after a report by the National Employment Law Project which highlighted the extent of how New York’s lax labor laws hurt workers. They cite, of those surveyed from the New York low wage labor market:
21.2 percent of workers reporting being paid below minimum wage
25.7 percent of workers not receiving full weekly overtime pay
20.5 percent not being paid for off-the-clock work
Additionally, other violations are cited including employers infringing on meal breaks, not giving their workers a pay-stub, implementing illegal pay deductions and other measures to deprive workers of their earned wages. For more information, see the study itself:
Good News, But Still a Band-Aid
This hard-won measure is an important move for protecting workers in New York and has the potential of giving workers in other states a basis for organizing similar measures in their areas. However, labor laws (like other facets of reformed capitalism) can be re-written and ignored if the business owners and their political cohorts so desire. We’ve seen how entire bodies of legislation can be pigeonholed in the course of a few years when political winds change. What workers need are lasting protections in the form of a social order in which they themselves are the boss. Only then will they be free of exploitation, both regulated and unregulated, at the hands of American capitalism.
For further reading on the destruction of organized labor in American history and what can be done about it, look here: