The American dream holds that in this country everyone can achieve economic comfort and stability through hard work and perseverance.
That is certainly the reason I immigrated to Staten Island, as well as the reason the men I stand with every morning looking for work.
But there are obstacles. Huge ones. And for scores of low-wage workers like myself, having your boss steal your wages can be the most unjust.
Wage theft is an epidemic in my community. I do not know any worker who has not been taken advantage of, who is not owed something by an unscrupulous contractor or employer.
A construction contractor recently gave me a job where I worked almost 12 hours with no breaks. He yelled at me that we weren’t working hard enough, that I was stupid.
When it came time to pay, he told me he’d pay me tomorrow. He never picked us up again, and does not answer his phone. As the old saying goes - time is money - and he stole my time.
Unfortunately, wage theft is not the practice of a few bad apples. It is a business strategy.
The National Employment Law Project recently showed that almost $1 billion is stolen from low-wage workers in New York City each year.
My friend Juan is owed close to $5,000 by the restaurant he worked at on Staten Island.
Make the Road New York, an organization that has years of experience recovering wages across the city, has had cases where workers are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. This hurts communities, and puts law-abiding businesses at a severe competitive disadvantage.
However, thanks to the Wage Theft Prevention Act, we have a new tool in the fight against wage theft. The Wage Theft Prevention Act puts a real price tag on violations, forcing employers to think twice before stealing wages, or retaliating against workers who complain of theft.
The WTPA quadruples the penalties that employers must pay workers for breaking the law, provides workers with a new penalty of up to $10,000 for each instance of retaliation, prohibits the “sneakier” forms of retaliation the employers use, and gives the Department of Labor critical new tools to hunt down and punish employers who underpay their workers.
This Sunday, May 1, for International Workers Day, community members in Port Richmond will be going public to put would be wage thieves on notice and to educate the community about our new tool in the fight for justice and dignity for all workers.
Together, we must ensure that a fair day’s pay accompanies a fair day’s work, and that employers who break the law do not have a competitive advantage over employers who respect their workers. This new law tackles one of the most stubborn obstacles in the struggle for the American dream.
"Today, with 12,600 dues-paying members, MRNY is a unique amalgam of worker center, legal clinic, citizenship school, mutual aid society, policy shop, protest factory and church. Its four offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island are an egalitarian oasis for members, who gather there for conversation and classes..."