Construction wage theft bill passes state Senate

Measure, which would be a win for unions, heads to governor’s desk

New York /
Jun.June 02, 2021 06:34 PM
Jessica Ramos, Gary LaBarbera and Latoya Joyner. (Getty, Facebook via Joyner)

Sen. Jessica Ramos, New  York Building and Construction Trades Council President  Gary LaBarbera and Assembly member Latoya Joyner. (Getty, Facebook via Joyner)

In a win for construction unions, a bill that shifts more liability to contractors is heading to the governor’s desk.

The state Senate on Wednesday voted in favor of the measure, which forces construction managers to assume responsibility for unpaid wages, benefits and attorney fees on their projects.

Typically, a worker will file a lawsuit against their direct employer, a subcontractor, to recoup wages. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assembly member Latoya Joyner, aims to ensure that construction managers are liable for the actions of those they hire and to incentivize “the construction industry to better self-police itself,” according to a legislative memo.

“No New Yorker can or should work for free,” Ramos tweeted soon after the bill’s passage.

An earlier version of the bill passed in the Assembly in January, but the measure was amended and re-passed by that chamber on Tuesday.

The latest iteration provides a few exceptions to the liability requirements, allowing construction managers to withhold wages in cases where subcontractors fail to provide certain payroll information. It also creates the option for a collective bargaining agreement to waive the bill’s requirements. And liability is limited in cases where legal action has been taken. In such instances, construction managers are responsible for wage theft that occurred no more than three years prior to when the claim was filed in court.

The bill would also allow the subcontractor to authorize any “person, organization or collective bargaining agent” to file a complaint on its behalf. The measure, backed by the city’s construction trades, faced some opposition from nonunion construction groups, which argued that wage theft should be handled by the Department of Labor, the state attorney general and local district attorneys, rather than third parties.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the state and city chapters of the Building and Construction Trades Council, said the bill is an important tool to combat wage theft for all workers on privately funded projects.

“From day-one, this legislation was all about putting the interests of working people ahead of those of unscrupulous contractors in the construction industry,” he said in a statement.

LaBarbera made the bill a priority for this legislative session, which ends next week.





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