Westchester Looks to Protect Workers from Wage Theft

Westchester County legislators Christopher A. Johnson (left), Nancy Barr and Ben Boykin (center), surrounded by workers during the bill’s presentation. (Photo via El Diario)

Westchester County is promoting a bill to protect construction workers, who are mostly Hispanic, from exploitation and wage theft by unscrupulous companies.

The bill seeks to introduce a number of reforms to the law granting licenses to construction, home improvement and gardening companies. According to bill promoters, Democratic legislators Nancy Barr and Christopher A. Johnson, workers in these sectors are paid poorly and sometimes even left unpaid.

“Imagine putting in a full day’s work and not getting paid for it. For many of us, it’s unthinkable. How could an employer be so unscrupulous or we be so vulnerable? But sadly, in Westchester County, this is not an uncommon situation,” said Barr.

If the bill is approved, the county, located north of New York City, would join the growing number of cities across the country to modify their commercial licensing laws to halt wage theft.

Johnson pointed out that no employee should be exploited. “This proposal will give the county an opportunity to identify contractors who take advantage of their workers, and create a level playing field for honest contractors to compete fairly.”

The bill’s objectives

The proposed bill will require everyone applying for construction licenses in Westchester to disclose any prior cases brought against them for unpaid services or insufficient payments. Any past sentences will be taken into consideration for new applications and renewals requested by the company.

Gonzalo Cruz, executive director of Don Bosco Workers, praised the proposed reforms, saying that they will help workers and their families and communities by creating incentives for employers to comply with the law and pay their employees the wages they have earned.

These changes “empower the county to deny home improvement licenses to any business with a history of failing to pay its workers the amount required by law,” said Cruz.

The piece of legislation also specifies that workers in Westchester can file complaints of insufficient payments or unpaid wages.

In addition, the proposed bill adds new protections for consumers hiring companies, which will now be required to detail the work to be performed in writing.

The chair of the county’s Board of Legislators, Ben Boykin, spoke in favor of the passage of the bill, saying: “It will make Westchester a fairer and safer place to work and do business in.”

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