Published on Thursday, April 1, 2021

Albany Times Union: Viewpoint:

Measure will fight wage theft in construction industry

Honest work should result in honest pay. In New York’s construction industry, however, that’s not always the case.
Far too often, irresponsible contractors on private construction projects withhold workers’ unpaid wages, overtime, and benefits, and they almost always get away with it. Since 2011, nearly $300 million in these stolen wages have been recovered and returned to exploited workers. Hundreds of millions more, though, still line the pockets of negligent contractors, instead of supporting the livelihoods of working men and women.
Fortunately, there is proposed legislation that would protect these workers from continued exploitation. It’s critical Albany swiftly passes it.
Currently, construction workers on private projects victimized by wage theft can only bring action against the subcontractor directly responsible for the paycheck, who are often fly-by-night operations or labor brokers that are judgment-proof — leaving tradesmen and tradeswomen robbed and reckless contractors richer. The legislation (S2766/A3350) would make general contractors jointly and severally liable for any wage theft civil violations committed by subcontractors on private construction sites, as is already the case on New York’s public construction projects and on all construction sites in five other states and the District of Columbia.
On public works projects and in other jurisdictions, it’s proven that allowing victims of these injustices to bring action against the general contractor makes it more likely that workers will collect their wages, and that the industry sheds its bad actors.
This legislation is common sense. For one, it would be a victory for all of New York’s construction workers, regardless of the project’s size or union affiliation. Secondly, responsible general contractors will remain unaffected and won’t be forced to pay a penny more.
Finally, it will clean up the private construction industry and root out unscrupulous firms with labor violations and incentivize the hiring of small businesses and those owed by minorities and women with good track records.
The Assembly has already passed the bill and if the Senate moves forward, New York could be just months away from delivering a significant safeguard for hard-working construction workers. Other states have already acted — with zero unexpected consequences — and created a safer, fairer work environment.
Accountability is needed on the jobsite. Now.
Gary LaBarbera is president of the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, representing over 200,000 unionized construction workers.

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