Stealing Immigrants' Wages in New York

Fleecing the immigrants is a big, safe business in New York

Part of the reason that this mass law-breaking continues in this allegedly forward-looking, pro-immigrant city is that the laws against it are feeble. For starters, the chances of being caught are slim. And even those found to have picked their employees' pockets end up shelling out not much more than the legal wage they were obligated to provide in the first place.

"There is a perverse incentive to steal your workers' wages," says Andrew Friedman, who helped found Make the Road and is part of a coalition trying to get the state legislature to approve a bill that would increase penalties and tighten the rules. This Wage Theft Prevention Act is already approved—in two different versions—by the Senate and the Assembly. Governor Paterson has agreed to sign the Senate's version. This puts the ball in Sheldon Silver's court. Last week, Silver's people were mum when asked why they weren't moving forward with this simple piece of social justice.

What should embarrass New Yorkers even more is this: Red state Arizona—that backward citadel of official anti-immigrant hostility—already has a much tougher wage-theft law on its books than New York. Yes, the state condemned for its stormtrooper tactics on those merely trying to earn a living passed its own law a few years ago that puts our rules to shame. Were those who allegedly fleeced Vicente Martinez Ávila out of his many hours nabbed doing so in the Grand Canyon State, it would cost them far more dearly. Let Shelly Silver explain that one.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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