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Wage protection; casino zoning bills introduced in Council

Wage bill would fine employers who cheat workers

"There is very little recourse beyond a costly court case for workers to reclaim stolen wages," City Councilman Bill Greenlee said of the need for the law. (Daily News File Photo)
"There is very little recourse beyond a costly court case for workers to reclaim stolen wages," City Councilman Bill Greenlee said of the need for the law. (Daily News File Photo)Read moreJori Klein

CITY Councilman Bill Greenlee yesterday introduced legislation that would create a new city position of wage-theft coordinator to review and adjudicate employee complaints and to fine employers found to have broken the law.

During the average week in Philadelphia, 36,400 low-wage workers are not paid minimum wage, 29,500 are not paid for all the overtime they are due and 28,200 aren't paid for off-the-clock work, according to a report from the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

"There is very little recourse beyond a costly court case for workers to reclaim stolen wages," Greenlee said of the need for the law.

"This is a big step for workers' rights and will send a message to employers that we are serious in protecting employees' rightful wages," he added.

The legislation was praised by Community Legal Services Inc., which provides legal aid to low-income Philadelphians.

"The current law is inadequate, but this new ordinance is a great step towards protecting workers," said Community Legal Services attorney Michael Hollander.

"Increasing penalties against employers who are skirting the law is a vital way to combat wage theft," he said.

The current penalty for violating wage laws is a $500 fine or 25 percent of the wages due, whichever is greater, Hollander said.

If Greenlee's bill becomes law, each missed week of pay is considered a separate incident and allows for penalties of up to $2,000 per incident.

Employees who typically experience wage theft are construction workers, fast-food and restaurant staff, caregivers for children and the elderly, cashiers, office clerks and factory workers, according to the Temple study.

In Philadelphia, employers who violate the law are estimated to steal $51 to $87, or 15 percent of an employee's weekly paycheck, the study found.

Greenlee said that his legislation has already won the support of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO and AFSCME District Council 47, among others.

Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman, said that the administration would reserve comment until Council hearings are held to consider the legislation.

Casino bill in play

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson yesterday made clear that he supports the plan to build a $400 million hotel and casino in South Philadelphia by the Cordish Companies, the Baltimore firm that has been accused of discriminating against black patrons in Louisville, Ky., and Kansas City, Mo.

"My goal is to make sure, whatever took place somewhere else, don't take place here. I can't control what happened in the past. What I can do as a councilperson is hold them accountable moving forward," said Johnson, who yesterday introduced zoning legislation for the project.

Johnson said he believes that the company has a strong racial-diversity record, while the casino will bring needed jobs to the city. A hearing will be scheduled to address the discrimination allegations, as well as concerns regarding traffic, security and building design, he said.

Paula Peebles, chairwoman of the National Action Network, which has accused Cordish of racism, blasted Johnson for planning a hearing after he has already made up his mind to support Cordish, and for - until this week - considering holding his Oct. 29 birthday campaign fund-raiser at the company's South Philadelphia Xfinity Live! venue.

"We believe that's outrageous and clearly a conflict of interest," Peebles said. "It's as if Councilman Johnson is just going to go through the motions with the hearings."

Mark Nevins, Johnson's campaign spokesman, confirmed that Xfinity Live! was among venues under consideration until being scrapped this week.

"Xfinity is not a good place to have the event, because Cordish is going through the zoning process," said Nevins, adding that Cordish would not have hosted the event and the campaign would have paid market rate to use the venue.

Johnson's bill would rezone as an entertainment special-purpose district the land that the casino would be built on, which is bordered by Packer Avenue to the north, Hartranft Street to the south, 10th Street to the west and Darien Street to the east.

A second zoning bill addressing the size of the building and digital signs and green space will be introduced next week, the councilman said.

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