The state Department of Labor resolved more than 6,700 wage theft cases in 2013, 12 percent more than the number closed in 2013 and more than any other year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week. The resolutions led to the payment of nearly $23 million to more than 12,700 workers who had not been paid their proper minimum wage, overtime pay or fringe benefits.
The Department of Labor has one of the largest labor standards enforcement staffs in the nation, the governor said. They recover millions of dollars in stolen wages each year.
“When employers don’t pay proper wages and benefits under the law, not only is it illegal, but it is also unfair to the majority of other businesses in New York that do follow the rules,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These figures from last year show that the State will not tolerate the abuse of workers and we will continue to actively defend their rights. I urge any worker who needs our help with labor issues to contact the Department of Labor immediately.”
About 6,535 new cases were opened in 2013 and 6,794 were closed. That is an increase of 36 percent in the number of cases closed compared to 2012. Last year was the first year in recent memory that more cases were closed than opened.
The faster closure rate is a result of changes in the agency’s investigative procedures, state officials said. Before last year, its labor standards policy for investigations was to look back six years, which delayed many cases by requiring investigators to make lengthy searches for documents that no longer existed and interview individuals who didn’t remember that far back. It was changed to three years, which is longer than the federal government’s two-year look-back period and the one or two years most other states looked back.
Nearly all state Labor Department’s cases prior to 2011 have been closed. The agency’s goal is, by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, to have the average investigation completed in less than six months.
“This is about much more than just numbers. This is about men and women who worked hard and were not paid their proper wages,” Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera said in a statement. “I urge any worker who believes he or she is being cheated out of money to contact the Department of Labor so we can investigate.”
In a statement, the New York State Coalition to End Wage Theft thanked Cuomo “for speaking out on the need for meaningful policing of our state’s wage and hour laws. The sad reality, however, is that the NYDOL lacks the resources to even make a dent in the wage theft epidemic.”
The number of investigators per capita has “plummeted” since the 1960s and 1970s, according to the coalition, an alliance of labor, small businesses, community, faith, legal services and policy organizations. It would take an increase of 200 investigators to return the agency to the previous staffing levels, it said.
Anyone with questions about minimum wage or other labor standards issues, or who wishes to file a complaint, should call 888-4NYSDOL (469-7365).