This week, the New York Building Trades gathered to rally for a Senator Jessica Ramos bill that will make significant changes to how wage theft is legislated in New York State.
We support the pursuit and use of all legal remedies against any contractor that intentionally and willfully does not pay the appropriate wages and benefits to employees. However, this bill creates a new private right of action and requires direct contractors to pay any wages, fringe benefits, or other benefit payments or contributions owed by a defaulting subcontractor and is deeply flawed. This will put general contractors at risk of having to pay twice for the same work and will create lengthy litigation. These redundant and unnecessary costs will only exacerbate the affordable and market rate housing crisis in the state.
The bill assumes that all general and subcontractors willfully and knowingly defraud their workers of wages and benefits. In essence, you’re guilty as charged and have little ability to defend yourself. What the bill needs to acknowledge and define are the good faith efforts of all contractors to ensure their workers receive the proper wages and benefits in what many will agree is a complicated and confusing set of rules and laws that govern prevailing wage work. Additionally, Part FFF of the 2020-21 New York State Budget established that the prevailing wage be paid on certain construction projects paid for in whole or in part with public funds. The combination of that new law and this bill will create a confusing set of requirements which will make the tracking even more difficult.
Further, the bill confers broad standing on a number of persons and entities on behalf of the affected workers to file a complaint. While noble, the jurisdiction and investigation of these cases should remain only with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor, the Attorney General of New York, and local District Attorneys. By allowing another person or entity to file on the behalf of a worker opens the door for unscrupulous persons that take advantage of the worker and potentially steal any settlement or dramatically alter what the worker receives by taking unnecessary service/legal fees.
The bill also does not establish any statue of limitation thus allowing these cases to extend deep into the future. It is unacceptable that years down the road a general or subcontractor will suddenly be faced with legal action he/she for something they had no idea occurred.
As New York begins to emerge from the darkest days of the pandemic, where the Governor and Legislature rightly want to invest in infrastructure, we should be doing everything we can to encourage the growth of the industry. Our fear is legislation like this will only drive contractors away from New York and delay our recovery.
This proposal will do nothing more than make it harder and more expensive to build in New York State. Not to mention it will deter or even drive good faith contractors out of the state. We need your help to stop this bill. Please, reach out to the following New York elected officials in opposition today using the button below: