Hundreds of Workers Rally at New York State Capitol to Advocate for EmPIRE Worker Protection Act

Albany, NY – Today, hundreds of workers from unions and worker organizations gathered at the state Capitol building to rally for the passage of the EmPIRE Worker Protection Act (S541B Hoylman-Sigal/A9012 Simon). These groups called on legislators to take immediate action and support the Act, which aims to address the widespread wage theft by unscrupulous corporations and worker backlogs at the understaffed New York Department of Labor.

A letter urging the passage was also delivered to the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Assembly Majority Leader, signed by prominent organizations including New York Communities for Change, United Auto Workers New York, National Employment Law Project (NELP), Make the Road NY, ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York, National Employment Lawyers Association/New York (NELA/NY), The Legal Aid Society, New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Laborers Local 79, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Teamsters, and more.

"Wage theft is running rampant in New York, with $3 billion stolen from hard-working New Yorkers every year due to lack of enforcement of our existing labor laws. The EmPIRE Act would allow workers, whistleblowers and labor unions to help enforce New York’s existing labor laws. It’s a win-win-win: it ensures workers are paid, generates revenue for the labor department to hire more staff, and supports law-abiding small-businesses who won’t be undercut by lawbreaking corporations. Our workers cannot wait years to get paid the wages they have earned when they need to pay rent and buy food for their families today,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, sponsor of bill A9012.

“The EMPIRE Act gives workers who are exploited and experience wage theft recourse. It also allows labor unions like ours to report violations directly to the DOL. No wonder billion-dollar corporations like McDonald’s use front groups to try to stop it. We are going to pass it this year and UAW New York is proud to champion this legislation,” said UAW Rep Aaron Eisenberg

New York State currently faces a pervasive wage theft problem, with an alarming $3 billion unlawfully withheld from workers each year. Despite resource constraints and an overwhelming workload, the dedicated employees at the New York Department of Labor have been tirelessly working to combat this issue. In 2023, each investigator was responsible for overseeing an impressive 72,884 workers, a significant increase from 65,237 in 2018.

“By allowing workers, whistleblowers, and unions to file public enforcement actions for violations of the New York Labor Law, the EmPIRE Act will vastly improve enforcement of the Labor Law,” said Hugh Baran, a workers’ rights attorney and Board Member of the National Employment Lawyers Association/New York. “Workers face increasing obstacles to enforcing their rights due to increased employer retaliation, which is particularly widespread in New York, as well as forced arbitration and class action waivers that prevent workers from bringing their claims collectively before judges and juries. The EmPIRE Act will ensure that unscrupulous employers cannot steal wages from workers with impunity.”

If enacted, The EmPIRE Worker Protection Act will empower more workers to exercise their existing workplace rights and enhance public enforcement, making those rights more accessible to all New Yorkers. Inspired by the success of California's Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which was passed in 2004, EmPIRE seeks to expand the reach of New York's Department of Labor, similar to how PAGA has fostered compliance with labor laws in California and increased revenues for the state agency without burdening employers with additional taxes or costs.

"Opposing the EmPIRE Act only protects lawbreakers and wage thieves," said Sol Freire Figueroa, Labor Campaigns Director for New York Communities for Change. "Just like PAGA has done in California, the Empire Act will defend law-abiding businesses, promote good jobs, and protect employees. This out-of-state led, corporate opposition only shows that the Empire Act is exactly what New York needs."