Wage Theft Bill Clears Senate Floor

The Senate has voted, and a wage theft enforcement bill will continue its journey through the Connecticut State legislative process.

Senate Bill No. 914, An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages, proposes to impose double damages in cases wherein which a plaintiff is found to be owed minimum wage and/or overtime compensation. With an 18-15 Senate floor vote, the tentative legislation moves on to the House of Representatives, which will decide whether or not to send it to Governor Dan Malloy for review.

“I wouldn’t say we’re optimistic, but we’re going to push very hard for this to happen,” said James Bhandary-Alexander, a staunch supporter of the bill and an attorney with New Haven Legal Aid, which provides Pro Bono counsel to plaintiffs labor rights cases.

But that push is coming with a lot of momentum, Bhandary-Alexander says.

“People are waking up to the problem [of wage theft],” he said. “There’s a lot of popular support for this-it’s just a matter of getting support from people in the House.”

A comprehensive wage theft report was released by Unidad Latina en Accion, (ULA) a New Haven-based labor and immigrant rights advocacy group, during Labor Committee testimony regarding the bill proposal. The report included statistics from a 2008 National Employment Law Project study, which found that wage theft victims lose 15 percent of their weekly earnings on average.

Two-thirds of workers surveyed across three major cities reported at least one wage violation in the work week prior to their participation in the study.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes an employee’s right to double damages in the event that an employer failed to make a “good faith” attempt to comply with wage laws. Connecticut has a mechanism for double damages as well, but the difference is that the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, according to Bhandary-Alexander.

If the proposal clears the House, Governor Malloy has the option to either sign it into law, or veto it.

“If it passes, it’ll be a victory, but it’ll just be one step,” Bhandary-Alexander said.

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