Any economy, including an innovative one, is built on the backs of a healthy and well-treated workforce. But at least on its lowest professional levels, Long Island is earning a reputation for wage theft and other worker abuses.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, during the first seven months of 2015, New York State investigators returned more than $18.1 million to nearly 19,000 workers across the state who weren’t paid the proper minimum wage or were shortchanged on overtime pay or other fringe benefits – and Long Island workers were shortchanged the second-highest amount among the 10 state regions.
Roughly $2.4 million was disbursed to Long Island workers between January and July, second only to the $11.6 million returned to New York City workers. The recovered Long Island wages were disbursed to 1,605 employees, who each received about $1,500 – the fourth-highest number of workers among the 10 regions and second-highest average payout, according to Cuomo’s office.
New York City topped those numbers, too, with $1,527 going to 7,598 workers. Western New York (2,090) and the Capital Region (2,047) have each recorded more worker-abuse cases than Long Island so far this year, but their average payouts ($352 and $219, respectively) are far lower.
According to the New York State Department of Labor, wage-theft cases on Long Island have vacillated on recent years, but generally have been increasing in number and severity. In 2011, $2.9 million was disbursed to 2,336 claimants; in 2012, it was $3 million to 1,454 claimants; in 2013, 1,555 claimants received $2.1 million.
With less than five months to go in 2015, the Island’s worker-abuse record – $3.5 million paid to 2,209 workers last year – is in jeopardy.
Alleged wage-theft investigations are conducted by the Department of Labor’s Worker Protection Division, which is currently investigating 2,500 active cases. In July, Cuomo also kicked off a task force to combat worker exploitation, focused on rooting out worker abuses including wage theft, human trafficking, retaliation, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, illegal deductions – for supplies, training or uniforms – and unfair scheduling issues.
“New York has zero tolerance for those who seek to deny an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” Cuomo said in a written statement.
The $18.1 million represents a 6 percent increase over the statewide wages returned during the first seven months of 2014, putting New York on pace to top the $30.2 million disbursed to 27,000 shortchanged employees last year.