Governor Cuomo Outlines Latest Efforts to Protect Workers from Abuse

NYCOSH’s ED, Charlene Obernauer, was quoted in the press release below.
Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of NYCOSH, said: “Investigating safety and health problems in the workplace is crucial to fighting worker exploitation, especially in industries where improvements are needed most. Under the Governor’s leadership, what began with groundbreaking work in the nail salon industry is now a Task Force dedicated to improving the quality of life for workers in many industries across the State.”
Link to press release on Governor Cuomo’s website. 

DECEMBER 14, 2015

Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Outlines Latest Efforts to Protect Workers from Abuse

State has Recovered more than $28 Million so far this Year for more than 24,000 Wage Theft Victims

Governor’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation has Launched more than 450 Investigations, Identifying more than 2,700 Violations

New York State spends $1.8 billion Annually for Immigrant-Related Services

Governor Cuomo outlined the latest efforts of his Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation. From the start of 2015 to today, the State has recovered and returned $28.9 million to more than 24,000 workers who were victims of wage theft. Additionally, since its formation in July, the Governor’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation has officially launched more than 450 investigations into worker exploitation, finding more than 2,700 violations, including theft of wages, failure to protect workers with mandatory Workers’ Compensation coverage and retaliation against workers who complain about violations of the law. The cases affect more than 2,000 workers in New York State.

The Governor highlighted these efforts at a national conference on integrating immigrants, often the victims of workplace exploitation. Under Governor Cuomo, New York State directs more than $1.8 billion annually for immigrant-related services, including medical services to legal immigrants, bilingual education for both children and adults and legal services for immigrants.

“I believe that government has a responsibility to protect and promote immigration – not to block it or harass people who only want a better future for their families,” said Governor Cuomo. “New York is a state of immigrants, and when the immigrant community succeeds, we all succeed. As Governor I am proud to be standing up for New York’s immigrants and fighting exploitation, and this administration is not going to rest until every worker and every family has the opportunity to make the most out of their God-given talents.”

Wage Recovery
Since January, the State has recovered and returned $28.9 million to more than 24,000 workers who were victims of wage theft. The breakdown of recovery by region is outlined below. The remaining amount was paid out through statewide investigations that cover multiple regions.

Region Amount Disbursed
Capital Region $892,000
Central New York $543,000
Finger Lakes $616,000
Long Island $3,917,000
New York City $18,027,000
Mid-Hudson $1,822,000
Mohawk Valley $114,000
North Country $103,000
Southern Tier $267,000
Western New York $1,056,000

Investigations

In the first-of-its-kind enforcement effort in the nation, Governor Cuomo’s Multiagency Task Force launched a comprehensive statewide investigation into multiple industries to identify and address worker exploitation and abuse. The Governor’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation is composed of 12 State agencies, including the Departments of State, Labor, Agriculture and Markets and Tax and Finance, as well as the Office of Children and Family Services, Division of Criminal Justice Services, State Police and Office of Faith Based Services.

Since the Task Force launched in July, the multiagency enforcement team has opened more than 450 cases that affect more than 2,000 workers. Through its investigations, the Task Force identified a number of violations in the workplace, including:

  • Failure to pay minimum wage
  • Failure to pay overtime
  • Tip theft
  • Hazardous and unsafe working and living conditions
  • Failure to protect workers with mandatory workers’ compensation
  • Retaliation against workers who complain
  • Failure to pay Unemployment Insurance contributions

Cases have been opened in a number of industries, including:

  • Restaurants: 66 cases
  • Agriculture: 20 cases
  • Construction: 28 cases
  • Car Wash: 17 cases
  • Nail Salon: 321 cases

Independent of the efforts of the Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation, the Governor’s Nail Salon Task Force has conducted more than 1,300 inspections and found more than 2,600 violations, affecting approximately 4,000 workers, since May, when the Governor announced a variety of industry reforms and nail salon worker protections.

The Task Force targets industries where workers often are victims of abuse, but do not come forward for fear of retaliation. These industries include:

  • Car Washes
  • Childcare
  • Cleaning
  • Construction
  • Farming
  • Home Health Care
  • Janitorial Services
  • Landscaping
  • Laundry
  • Nail Salons
  • Restaurants
  • Retail
  • Supermarkets
  • Transportation – including Airport and Trucking

Some workers in these industries – many of whom are immigrants – are frequent victims of wage theft and are often subjected to unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, unstable or unscheduled hours, and illegal deductions for supplies, training and uniforms. For example, airport workers recently testified that they do not receive fair wages and benefits so that there is wage and benefit parity between airline employee and workers. Some workers in the agriculture industry testified that they were exposed to unsafe working conditions and exposed to hazardous chemicals.

To help address these fears and encourage more workers to report, the Task Force established an Anti-Retaliation Unit. The unit of attorneys and investigators works to end unlawful retaliation of workers who complain about their wages, misclassification, or other rights protected by the New York Labor Law. After receiving a complaint, attorneys work to immediately reverse the retaliatory action by informing affected employers of the consequences and providing the employer with an opportunity to immediately reverse the retaliatory action, obtaining real-time solutions.

The Unit recently obtained immediate reinstatement for two workers who had been fired for complaining about stolen wages, and imposed fines and damages on the employer in the amount of $71,225.81.

Andrew Friedman, Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said: “I commend Governor Cuomo and the Task Force for launching these important investigations. It’s clear that the Governor and New York State are committed to defending the rights of hardworking New Yorkers.

Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of NYCOSH, said: “Investigating safety and health problems in the workplace is crucial to fighting worker exploitation, especially in industries where improvements are needed most. Under the Governor’s leadership, what began with groundbreaking work in the nail salon industry is now a Task Force dedicated to improving the quality of life for workers in many industries across the State.”

Keith Mestrich, President & CEO of Amalgamated Bank, said: “Governor Cuomo’s progressive leadership is taking the State further, leveling the playing field for businesses and lifting up workers who need it most. Today’s announcement shows progress is being made in the industries that need it most.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said: “All workers deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. We commend Governor Cuomo and the Exploited Worker Task Force for the important work being done to ensure all workers receive the pay they duly earned.”

Margaret Fung, Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said: “Asian American workers tell us that their employers are blatantly defying labor laws and refusing to pay court judgments awarding them back wages and overtime pay. Governor Cuomo’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation has a critical role to play in stopping the abusive labor practices faced by immigrant workers in New York State.”

Angel “Luis” Acosta, President, New York City Labor Council For Latin American Advancement, said: “For too long, workers have been victimized by exploitation on the job and were afraid to come forward. We at NYC-LCLAA commend Governor Cuomo’s impactful investigations to help end worker exploitation in New York State once and for all.”

Immigrants’ Rights
Many of the industries targeted by the Task Force have a higher proportion of immigrant workers, many of whom are not native English speakers. The Exploited Workers Task Force is yet another of the Governor’s initiatives in a series of efforts to help New York State’s immigrants.

Governor Cuomo is a longtime defender of immigrant rights and interests, having rescinded the Secure Communities program, required state agencies that provide services to also provide interpretation and translation services; passed legislation that cracks down on those who commit immigrant assistance services fraud; made national history by making the Office for New Americans the first state-level immigrant office created by statute; and pushed for the adoption of the New York State DREAM Act. As attorney general, he successfully fought immigration services fraud and unauthorized practice of the law, securing judgments and settlements in excess of $23 million.

Under Governor Cuomo, New York State directs more than $1.8 billion annually for immigrant-related services, including medical services to legal immigrants, bilingual education for both children and adults and legal services for immigrants.