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Getting the word out about 'wage theft'

According to recent statistics, 2.1 million New Yorkers are cheated out of $3.2 billion in wages and benefits. Activists are trying to get the word out that this wage theft is happening here in central New York.

Rebecca Fuentes is an organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. She says wage theft happens when employers underpay workers, don’t pay overtime, or classify them in the wrong job description. And it makes it harder for a working family to get by.

“It puts [people] in a situation where people cannot pay their rent, they can’t buy groceries. They can’t pay insurance for their car. We hear these stories all the time,” said Fuentes.

But many people aren’t aware of their rights or are fearful to make waves at a workplace. That’s why the Workers’ Center fanned out recently to the vulnerable communities where this is most common. Fuentes says they simply need to know the facts.

“There’s a lot of fear of retaliation, losing their job. Or sometimes it's just not knowing the law or their rights. Or after they make a complaint with the Department of Labor, the lack of enforcement. Or the very weak enforcement from our enforcement agencies, that is a big problem.” said Fuentes.

Farm workers often among the most common who find themselves victims of wage theft in this area, says Fuentes. But she says she’s also heard from employees in the food service

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.