Schneiderman Says Wage Theft Is A Crime Worthy of Jail Time
September 14, 2012 8:36 am
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is tough on wage theft: Schneiderman has overseen a crackdown on wage and hour violations, with employers in continued violation being sentenced to jail time.
Wage and hour violations have experienced a dramatic rise since 1993, and seem to spike when the economy is weak (see chart). An Attorney General taking up the cause of bilked employees could change the workplace culture of New York state and the city.
On Labor Day, Schneiderman published an op-ed explaining his stance on the matter. Here are some highlights:
Imagine a restaurant dishwasher who is robbed on payday while riding the bus home. A pickpocket steals all of his wages, leaving him with nothing to show for a week of hard work. If the thief were caught, he or she would be arrested and would surely face criminal charges.
Now imagine that same dishwasher, also deprived of his week of wages, except there is a different culprit: his boss. After six long days in a hot restaurant kitchen the boss refuses to pay him because “business is bad” or this was a “try-out week” or because two dishes broke, or for no apparent reason at all. If this culprit were caught, typically he would face only civil charges. He would have to pay the wages owed, and maybe a small penalty as well…
Lawmakers and prosecutors must reverse this trend by treating wage theft as what it is — theft, and pursuing criminal charges accordingly.
Schneiderman goes on to reveal the framework for treating wage theft as a criminal offense rather than slapping fines on problem employers, only to have them view sanctions as a cost of doing business.
He goes on:
To be sure, not all labor law violations should be treated as criminal cases. Some infractions are inadvertent or minor. But criminal charges are appropriate for employers who stiff their workers altogether or who pay far below the minimum wage; for those who file false tax documents or otherwise commit fraud; for repeat violators who refuse to follow the law, or wrongdoers who obstruct justice by firing employees who testify about violations.
In this time of deep political divisions, there should be nothing controversial about the notion that working people who do their jobs should be paid for their work.
Schneiderman’s record and his clear justification for treating endemic wage theft as a jail-worthy offense firmly places him on the side of workers. As organizing efforts flower in the wake of wage theft at bakeries and car washes (Schneiderman sentenced a repeat wage thief owner of a Brooklyn car wash to jail time), a tough attorney general will be a powerful ally.
Schneiderman, we salute you.
Image from here