Important Wins in Workers Rights Laws in NY This Week!

We here at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center are very happy to inform you that some key pieces of legislation that your Workers’ Center has been pushing for have recently passed into law—or are close to becoming law. In some cases, we’ve been advocating for these laws for years, and are delighted to see these rights for workers finally enshrined. Here’s a quick run-down.

  1. Secure Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) This law is extremely close to our hearts, as we’ve been a part of the upstate-downstate SWEAT Coalition for the past five years. As you know, our Workers’ Rights Hotline deals with many cases of Wage Theft every year. There has been a loophole that has allowed owners of some non-publicly traded companies to weasel out of having to pay their workers once they’re found guilty of Wage Theft by closing the business — and then often opening a new one! Your Workers’ Center’s biggest win in this field was the case of Green Cafe in Collegetown in 2010 which was found to have stolen $1,000,000 from workers in Ithaca and New York City, and they escaped having to pay using this loophole.

    NOW, New York law allows workers to impose a “Wage Lien” on the property of an employer when a wage claim is filed. It allows workers to hold shareholders of non-publicly traded companies personally liable for Wage Theft. And it allows workers to hold the ten largest owners of a Limited Liability Company personally liable for Wage Theft. This will be an exceptional and long overdue win for working people. Thieves should PAY. [The SWEAT bill has passed both the NYS Senate and Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signing into law.]
  2. Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA)
    The TCWC testified at NYS Senate Hearings in early May 2019 in Sullivan County on the importance of passing the FFLPA. A lot of labor laws have funky exceptions for certain jobs or industries, and agriculture has a lot of those. This law allows farmworkers to unionize, requires that farmworkers receive a day of rest each week, makes them eligible for unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits, and makes them eligible for overtime pay in any week when they work 60 hours or more.

    However, the final version of the act is weakened by certain provisions and exclusions including banning strikes, work stoppages, or slowdowns, and even refers to strikes, stoppages and slowdowns as “unfair labor practices”, that could be punishable under New York labor law. [The FFLPA has passed both the NYS Senate and Assembly and has been signed by the Governor.]
  3. The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act (commonly known as Green Light)
    This law allows immigrants more options to verify their identities so that they can get learner’s permits and driver’s licenses. Rules that prevented immigrants from having access to the driver’s licensing system have long created conditions where immigrants have been forced either not to have personal transportation to get to work, the grocery store, or anywhere or else OR to drive illegally and fear that road patrol would initiate immigration actions against them. Aside from driving, finally allowing our communities’ immigrants access to photo ID is a great step. This has been a joint priority of the Upstate NY Workers’ Center Alliance, of which the TCWC was a founding member. [Green Light has passed both the NYS Senate and Assembly and has been signed by the Governor.]
  4. Expanded Workplace Sexual Harassment rights!
    Sexual harassment is one of the forms of discrimination that is always really hard for a worker to come forward about, and unnecessarily hard to receive justice for. These new rights remove the requirement that harassment be “severe and pervasive” to be enforceable (i.e. if someone just doesn’t harass a co-worker often enough or grotesquely enough they sometimes have been able to get away with it legally), and extends the statute of limitations for bringing forward a sexual harassment complaint from one year to three years. (among other provisions) Here at the Workers’ Center we’ve been handling many harassment cases and requests for harassment training through the years. This is a big win — and is some of what is covered in our sexual harassment trainings for workers and managers. [Expanded workplace sexual harassment rights have passed both the NYS Senate and Assembly and has been signed by the Governor.]

    We’re able to keep pushing for workers’ rights like these year after year thanks to your support. Please contribute today to ensure we stay in the fight to win more rights tomorrow!