Next City: When It Comes to Stealing Money From Workers, Businesses Are More Savvy Than Ever

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Next City:

by Oscar Perry Abello

About a 30-minute subway ride from Times Square, Queens’ Flushing neighborhood doesn’t have massive skyscrapers or semi-nude street performers — but it is an important center of the national fight against wage theft.

“There were a lot of workers who were coming out about wage theft in the Flushing area, but employers are very well-organized,” says Sarah Ahn, an organizer at the Flushing Workers Center, which opened a few years ago. “They threatened workers who speak up with blacklisting or other crazy forms of retaliation, sometimes even using physical violence.”

Wage theft includes not paying for all hours worked (overtime too), paying below minimum wage and withholding benefits. While it occurs at all levels of the income ladder, low-wage workers suffer the most from it by far. According to one study, employers in New York City are stealing nearly a billion dollars a year in wages from low-income workers.

As of August 2013, New York State’s Department of Labor had a backlog of more than 17,000 open wage theft cases, more than three times as many as in 2008. Three-quarters of open wage theft cases had been open for more than a year.

Without organizing workers across shops, across different industries, it’s hard for them to get anywhere with wage theft cases, Ahn says. Enforcement mechanisms have yet to catch up with employers in today’s economy of transient workers, independent contractors, and small retail or other service-sector businesses. “I think employers got very savvy about how to get away with wage theft, compared to not too long ago,” she adds.

As a result, workers are losing, even when they’re winning. There are at least $125 million in unpaid wage theft judgments and court orders in New York State, according to a report released earlier this year.

Read the full article from Next City.