The Westchester County executive has signed a bill to help protect workers and consumers. He did so at the site of major grassroots support for the measure.
Democratic County Executive George Latimer signed the Anti-Wage Theft bill at the Don Bosco Community Center in Port Chester, where Dr. Ann Heekin is executive director.
“This is a justice issue,” Heekin says. “And this is a way for Westchester County to stand up alongside of a couple of other progressive municipalities across the country and make it clear, as we like to say so often, ‘no pay, no way.’”
Director of Westchester’s Consumer Protection Department Jim Maisano says he’s excited to enforce the law.
“And when you don’t follow the laws and you don’t pay your employees, don’t expect to get a license in Westchester County,” Maisano says.
The bill requires the county to consider judgements against contractors for non-payment or underpayment of employees when examining new license applications and license renewals. Latimer says contractor applicants also will be required to disclose any business-related judgements against them, especially those involving non-payment or underpayment.
“This law is a win-win. This is increased revenues for the county,” Latimer says. “This is welcomed by the consumers because it helps ensures they are doing business with a reputable company, and it’s welcomed, very important, welcomed by people in the business community because it weeds out the fly-by-night, the bad actors, the folks who are not playing by the rules who do business in Westchester and undercut the legitimate businesses that play by the rules.”
“I often think, as a homeowner in Westchester, I wonder how many times I’ve hired a home improvement contractor, paid what my bill said I owed him, and never knew that perhaps some of the labor that was part of that invoice never found its way to the men or women who were hired to do that work,” says Heekin.
The county’s Consumer Protection Director Maisano:
“This is the no-brainer of no-brainers,” says Maisano. “Someone gets up every morning and they go to work and they don’t get paid, and somebody doesn’t pay them and hurts that family, they should be penalized. You can’t get away with that in our society.”
Heekin says contractors who have claims filed against them often count on the lengthy Department of Labor process discouraging employees from carrying through on their complaints. Kevin Duarte is with the Community Resource Center in Mamaroneck.
“It’s the daily bread. This happens all the time, every single day, multiple workers, multiple job sites,” says Duarte. “And it’s complicated because one worker may work at different work sites, and the headquarters or the main office might be one different site, and they don’t know which address which… It’s a mess. It happens every single day.”
The bill, authored by Democratic Legislators Nancy Barr and Chris Johnson, passed the Board of Legislators unanimously.
The Anti-Wage Theft act refers to Home Improvement Licensing Law amendments. Steve Otis is a Democratic state Assemblyman from Rye.
“To not pay the wage, to perpetuate wage theft, is a moral crime, it’s not just an economic crime. You’re saying to somebody who’s done a day’s work, we’re not going to pay you because we think we have the power not to pay you or you don’t have the ability to fight us,” Otis says. “It really is immoral. So this is a significant thing that the county is doing, building on laws we have in the state, but wage theft is really a local crime. It happens in individual settings.”
The law takes effect January 1.