By Nicole Breskin
SOHO — Retail workers, activists and politicians turned out to announce the introduction of a new bill that could protect local workers from losing millions of dollars in unpaid wages.
State Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Carl Heastie announced the Wage Theft Prevention Act in SoHo on Friday, which will stiffen penalties and heighten enforcement for companies that illegally withhold or steal wages from their employees. The bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this week.
“Mugging employees out of pay doesn’t only hurt families, it hurts communities,” Sen. Savino said in front of a crowd waving signs supporting worker’s rights. “It makes scrupulous employees less competitive.”
The announcement took place in front of Scoop NYC at 475 Broadway, which is being sued by employees for half a million dollars in unpaid overtime. Last month, employees from the chain that sells top-designer brands rallied in front of Greenwich Village’s Shoe Mania, which is also being sued by workers for $3 million in unpaid wages.
Workers from Mystique Boutique were also at the Friday rally, demanding $2 million in back wages as part of another lawsuit.
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of legal advocacy group Make the Road New York, which is supporting the bill, explained that more than $18.4 million a week and nearly $1 billion each year is taken from New York City’s workers.
“This money that would otherwise be spent on food, rent and school supplies,” Archila said at the event. “This bill will turn around the perverse economic incentives that currently encourage wage theft, undermine responsible businesses and steal from our tax base.”
Assemblyman Heastie added: “This bill isn’t anti-business. It’s anti-bad business.”
Joseph Bavouce, who worked for six years at Scoop NYC’s SoHo store, told DNAinfo at the event that the company paid him a flat rate but forced him to work hours of overtime that he was never compensated for.
“I worked here to send money home to my family, but they treated us badly,” said Bavouce, whose wife and children live in Cameroon. “I hope a bill is passed so this doesn’t happen any more.”
Carolina Ferreyra, 23, who worked at a Mystique Boutique on Canal Street, was given a raise to $8.15 an hour when she received a promotion to be the store's manager. However, she said she did not receive overtime pay beyond her 40 hours a week.
“I couldn’t understand how I was working more than 60 hours a week but not making enough money to go to school,” Ferreyra said. “I didn’t know any better at the time.”
Owners at Shoe Mania, Scoop NYC and Mystique Boutique did not return calls for comment.