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Cracking down on employers who ignore wage laws

State officials crack down on a wider array of businesses - especially those in service sector.

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This week Ansoumana Faty, a former grocery deliveryman in New York City, will pick up a paycheck for $7,000. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, the waiters and waitresses at the New Delhi Diamond's Restaurant in Ithaca will share a cash payout of $10,000.

They are among hundreds of people in New York who are getting reimbursed back wages and unpaid overtime as a result of recent legal settlements. Many of the employees were paid as little as $2 an hour, in jobs they worked for 10 to 12 hours a day.

Across the country, a growing number of states, advocacy groups - and even individual workers - are fighting back against wage abuses in the workplace.

From New York to California, several state attorneys general are targeting violations of state and federal minimum-wage and overtime laws. One reason: State authorities believe the infractions are growing as the economy becomes more service-oriented - and are showing up in new industries.

"Historically, when people thought of minimum-wage violations, they thought of sweatshops and informal workplaces at the margins of the economy - the underground economy," says Annette Bernhardt, a senior policy analyst at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. "But increasingly, we're seeing violations in very formal workplaces - in retail, in grocery stores, in industrial laundries and nursing homes."

In New York City alone, researchers have identified 14 types of businesses - from maintenance contractors to the hotel industry - where minimum-wage and overtime laws have been routinely violated. In Florida, a survey of contract construction workers found that 27 percent who worked overtime didn't get paid time-and-a-half for it. And in Fairfax, Va., interviews with day laborers at four sites found that 54 percent were paid less than agreed - and at one time or another, 53 percent received no pay at all.

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