Just Try Stealing From Your Workers Once This New Law Goes On the Books

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Morgan Schweitzer
You don't get to celebrate too many victories on the state legislative level these days, but there should be a few loud cheers for its passage this week of a new law that makes it a bigger crime to steal wages from your workers.

The bill means the next time an employer flips off a worker like Vicente Martinez Ávila -- whose story of working hundreds of hours of overtime in a Brooklyn cemetery for nothing is told in this week's Voice -- he risks getting slammed with tough penalties.

The legislation was crafted by state senator Diane Savino, Democrat/Working Familes Party of Staten Island and Brooklyn, in response to a campaign led by the Make the Road New York. Savino is a former city union official who has championed low-wage workers in the legislature. She summed up the rationale behind the bill yesterday:

"Stealing from employees not only hurts families, it hurts communities. It also makes honest employers less competitive. Businesses that are good corporate citizens and promptly pay their employees what is owed them, as required by law, should not be at a disadvantage to companies that are illegally withholding wages from their workers."

The Assembly version of the bill was introduced by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie. It mandates that workers who are short-changed on overtime or rooked out of the legal minimum wage can get their money back, plus a 100 percent penalty -- up from 25 percent under current law. It also adds new protections for workers who blow the whistle on cheating employers. The bill awaits Gov. Paterson's signature. He says he'll sign.

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