Law and Politics

Back Pay for Exploited Workers

September 24, 2015
By Stephanie West

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced  that recent investigations to protect exploited workers in New York State have led to nearly $3.3 million in back wages, damages and settlements for 800 workers.

These efforts have included a targeted wage investigation of car washes that uncovered more than $446,000 in underpayments; an investigation of supermarket locations that found hundreds workers who hadn’t been receiving the proper wages; and more than $1 million in settlements or ordered damages for employees who alleged unlawful discrimination against their employers.

“A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is a right and New York has zero tolerance for those who seek to exploit workers and deny them what they are rightfully owed,” Governor Cuomo said. “This administration will continue to crack down on wage theft and other unlawful employment practices across this state, helping to ensure opportunity and equality are available to all.”

As part of the Governor’s state-wide efforts to crack down on worker exploitation, state investigators conducted investigations spanning in several industries where there are low-wage workers — including nail salons, restaurants, construction companies, grocery stores and car washes. Workers are often victimized through wage theft, human trafficking, retaliation, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, unstable or unscheduled hours and illegal deductions for supplies, training or uniforms.

Protecting Car Wash Workers
In late May, State investigators — acting on tips from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, New York Communities for Change and Make The Road New York — visited 11 car washes in Brooklyn and interviewed 77 workers. The Department of Labor met off-site with groups of workers after hours to gather additional information. Since the investigation, the State has identified more than $446,000 in underpayments, along with more than $111,000 in liquidated damages, both owed to 97 workers. The businesses must also pay $30,000 in penalties.

Since January 2011, the Department of Labor has investigated wage theft complaints at 98 car washes throughout the State. These investigations found 91 violations and have led to more than $211,000 being returned to more than 130 workers.

Protecting Restaurant Workers
Between January and June 2015, State investigators identified more than $680,000 in wage underpayments and liquidated damages against restaurants in located in Queens. Investigators visited 10 restaurants in Queens and found 43 workers who were not being paid the proper wages or overtime. Businesses were also assessed $35,000 in penalties.

In Manhattan during the same time period, State investigators visited nine restaurants and found $588,000 in wage underpayments and liquidated damages for 64 workers. The businesses were also assessed $25,000 in penalties.

September 23, 2015

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