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Workers Fighting for Back Pay Vow to Continue Fight After Cuomo Veto of SWEAT Bill

Queen City Workers' Center

You might have heard our past overage of the SWEAT bill – Securing Wages Earned Against Theft – an attempt to help workers get pay being withheld by employers.  Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill on the last day of 2019, but advocates for the measure are not giving up the fight.

The problem is a worker might be owed back wages after they leave a job, or if the business closes or even if they get shorted on their time sheet.  Mary Lister with the Queen City Workers’ Center says wners will shut down a business or transfer assets to a relative even during a court fight over the back wages.

“…and it became much harder for those workers to get any form of justice.  So this bill would especially go after bosses who try to move around their assets in order to avoid paying back the workers what they’re owed.”

The bill would prevent hiding assets to get out of paying wages once a settlement is made.  Mark Dunlea, who ran the Hunger Action Network, helped introduce the bill which he says would really help often very-low wage workers.

“If they’re getting a billion dollars stolen out of their paycheck, putting that billion dollars back into their pockets would really help reduce hunger and homelessness in New York State.”

Dunlea says Cuomo vetoed the bill, saying the state had already collected 300 million in back wages since 2011 … far below what worker advocates say is owed by businesses.  Lister and other oekrs groups reacted harshly to the veto, coming late at night on the final day fo the year.  The bill was passed six months prior, plenty of time to work out any language or other details.  Without the law’s protections, Lister says workers have to take a big change just to get what they’re owed.

“It’s very likely that (they’ll) face some kind of retaliation.  So the importance of the work we’re trying to do with the SWEAT bill is that it’s actually been led by those low-wage workers who did have money stolen out of their paycheck.  They took a very brave option to come together with workers across different industries to say that enough is enough.”

They charge Cuomo with favoring employers – even those with court judgments against them – over workers,  Cuomo might hve another version of the SWEAT bill as part of his state budbget proposal.  Lister promises workers will continue protests. 

This story was updated with copy corrections. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.