Waging war on wage theft: Manhattan DA Bragg forms Worker Protection Unit to investigate unfair bosses

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced Thursday the creation of a Worker Protection Unit which aims to take wages out of the pockets of shady employers and into the hands of honest workers.

A Manhattan District Attorney’s office first, the unit is promised to investigate and prosecute wage theft perpetrated by industry leaders throughout borough, including in professions ranging from construction to the hospitality sector and even home health care. While the unit will seek criminal charges against individuals and corporations that steal their employees’ wages, Bragg emphasized that the most imperative aspect of this announcement is returning money to those who have had their earnings unfairly held by bosses. This will be initiated by Bragg’s Stolen Wage, which will be funded by the D.A.’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative.

“With this new unit, we will significantly expand our focus to include other industries with high rates of worker exploitation, and wage theft, which often impacts our city’s immigrant workforce that may include and will be no surprise to those here, home health care agencies, fast food chains and restaurants, hotels and hospitality, cleaning and janitorial services and the list goes on and on,” Bragg said. “If someone takes some property from you, we can charge the larceny crime for whatever the dollar amount is. If someone takes the exact same amount of money from you in stolen wages, that is not covered because that is not currently defined as property. Think about that.”

District Attorney Alvin Bragg unveiled the Worker Protection Unit, which safeguards employees pay from unscrupulous bosses on Feb. 16. Photo by Dean Moses

Bragg also highlighted that immigrants and non-English-speaking New Yorkers are most often the victims of wage theft. However, although the unit will only take place in the confines of Manhattan if a worker is employed in the borough but resides elsewhere, they will still be protected. While this new initiative is a pilot program, Bragg urged for his fellow district attorneys across the Big Apple to follow suit with the protections.

In order for Bragg to levy strong charges against exploiters, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Catalina Cruz is being put forward, thus permitting wage theft to be charged as larceny by prosecutors.

“This is my baby because it’s one of the first bills I introduced. I introduced it because my family has been a victim of wage theft. I introduced it because I used to go after employers, and because every single day, my neighbors are feeling the pinch of having their wages stolen. Make no mistake about it, they are having their wages stolen,” Cruz said. 

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. Photo by Dean Moses

Cruz pointed out that this bill is not about going after the wallets of every business, it is instead about holding the dirty dealers accountable for taking advantage of a vulnerable person.

According to a study, Bragg says that workers have about $1 billion in funds stolen across the country each year. He also pointed out that workers do not have to be documented to take advantage of his unit. Workers can report crimes to his hotline at (646) 712-0298.