Prosecutors are so conditioned to win at all costs that they have lost their nerve to test the waters in the name of justice. Currently, when corporate executives steal we use civil statutes to punish with fines. These fines help but often employers treat them as a price of doing business, and go right back to the same behavior. They need to face consequences they fear, not ones that they can afford. As a progressive, I believe we need to criminally prosecute heads of companies, contractors, and subcontractors who willingly break the law for pure greed. They devastate hard working people who are trying to provide for their families. My office will prosecute the real criminals who line their pockets every day by preying on workers.
“Wage theft” is rampant in America. It happens when predatory employers cheat by refusing to pay their workers minimum wage, overtime, or sometimes, refusing to pay at all. Of course these employers prey on workers who feel boxed into taking whatever jobs they can get due to their immigration status, criminal record, lack of transportation, or the need for quick work to feed their families.
If you don’t think this is a huge problem take a look at the staggering numbers: about $700 million in wages is stolen from 350,000 workers every year. Such employers also under-report wages for tax purposes, paying less while profiting off the backs of the poor. These violations of basic workers’ rights culminate into paying the ultimate price for greed; unsafe workplaces that contribute to 5,190 worker deaths in 2016 alone. This is blatant criminal behavior, but typically such crimes are dealt with as civil matters where employers face fines — not criminal records and jail. That will change with me because I believe in justice for all.
In the past week, I have attended two rallies demanding legislation that makes it easier for the Attorney General to civilly prosecute contractors and subcontractors who steal wages. I applaud the organizers, community, and legislators for their important and hard work. I show up because I believe we must do anything and everything to widen the net to catch violators of the law. But we have become so used to the status quo that we forget about the laws that already exist and it is the job of the DA to test those laws to protect the people.
We don’t need to wait for new civil legislation to hold predatory employers accountable. Wage theft is stealing. Stealing is criminal. The punishment for embezzlement and receiving stolen property is prison and fines. And while the system is well versed in punishing the poor for stealing food, bikes, and sneakers, the system rarely uses the laws that exist to prosecute corporate executives when they steal from the poor. Just like when employees who steal from their employers are charged with violating criminal statutes, as District Attorney I will prosecute predatory employers who steal from their workers. Workers are victims too, and their victimizers must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Who you know and how much you have will no longer protect criminal behavior.
With me, business as usual will end and real justice for all will begin.
Shannon McAuliffe is a candidate for the Suffolk County District Attorney.