Protesters denounced the backlog of wage theft cases and demanded an increase in the minimum wage. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

Protesters denounced the backlog of wage theft cases and demanded an increase in the minimum wage. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

By Melanie Bencosme
Voices of NY

While examining his Domino’s paycheck in 2007, pizza deliveryman Carlos Rodriguez Herrera’s eyes paced from the $4.40 an hour he got paid to the hours worked that week, which was 20 hours short. Confused, he backtracked and realized the same gap was true for every week over the past two years. But when Rodriguez confronted his boss, he was terminated.

“They robbed me and when I complained they fired me,” said Rodriguez, 28, who attended a rally in front of the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) building in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday morning.

The Coalition for a Real Minimum-Wage Increase, an umbrella group of eight organizations, held the rally to reveal that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed found that there were 14,000 open cases of unpaid wages at the DOL as of July. More than 2,000 of the cases had been open for one to two years and over 1,000 were open for more than two years.

The DOL has 142 employees including 85-90 investigators statewide who are handling the 14,000 complaints, according to the FOIA request.

“[Gov. Andrew] Cuomo needs to put money back into the Department of Labor,” said Rodriguez.

JoAnn Lum, executive director of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, one of the groups that took part in the rally, cited the case of a constituent who she said called the DOL to file a complaint of wage theft and was told to call back in a year because of the backlog.

“We’re seeing so many open cases and people are just giving up,” said Lum. “They are discouraging people to come forward.”

In New York City alone, more than 300,000 workers report wage theft of $18.4 million every week, totaling close to $1 billion a year, according to a 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project.

Under Cuomo, the department has returned more than $18 million to workers this year, Chris White, assistant director of communications for the DOL said via e-mail.

Posters from the rally calling on Cuomo not to give workers second class treatment and not to offer subsidies to corporations. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

Posters from the rally calling on Cuomo not to give workers second class treatment and not to offer subsidies to corporations. (Photo by Melanie Bencosme/Voices of NY)

Seeking restitution for the wage theft after being fired from Domino’s, Rodriguez contacted the DOL and filed a complaint in 2007. He was told to follow up every month and did for the next five years until recently when he found out his case was resolved last year for the amount of $365. That’s $8,787 less than the amount he says he was owed.

Carmen Andrard, 42, traveled from the Bronx to Connecticut and worked 11 hour days for $45 a day, six days a week for seven years to support her family as a manicurist. After working with no paid time off, he had to tend to her son who was sick in the hospital in 2010 and was fired, she said.

“They just threw me out,” said Andrard. “I hope somebody can hear us.”

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