Municipal Government

New Agency, Laws To Protect Workers?

By Joe Maniscalco
April 21, 2015

The City Council is now considering a new slate of worker-friendly actions.

The City Council is now considering a new slate of worker-friendly actions.

New York, NY – Millions of men and women throughout the city currently subjected to a myriad of workplace violations could soon win stronger protections through the creation a new agency tasked with safeguarding labor standards, as well as an additional law shielding workers from retaliatory personnel actions. 

On Monday, the committees on Civil Service and Labor and Women’s Issues held a joint hearing on efforts to create the Office of Labor Standards and enact a new law enabling employees to be transparent about their salaries without fear of reprisals from bosses. 

The proposed amendments to the city charter and administrative code were part of a larger legislative package  that was introduced, which also includes five other worker-friendly resolutions, including one calling on the state to clear the way for New York City to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage. 

Committee on Women’s Issues Chairperson Laurie Cumbo [D-35th District], said that poor working conditions — the enduring gender pay gap among them — need to be tackled head on.

“What we need is more transparency — not secrecy,” the Brooklyn council member said. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, minimum wage violations alone cost working men and women $20.1 million in lost weekly income in 2014.

Earlier this year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito advanced the idea of creating an Office of Labor Standards as a sort of one-stop-shop designed to study and promote worker protections, education and safety, while also enforcing city laws. 

If ultimatley approved, the mayor would decide where the new agency is housed and appoint its director.

Intro. 197 is the bill that seeks to protect employees who face retaliation for being open about the wages they earn. 

An Institute for women’s Policy Research study done last year found that about half of all workers report that the discussion of wage and salary information is "either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment."

Supporters of the new legislation say the proposed law is the “clarion call” that retaliation for wage transparency will no longer be tolerated, and that the only way for workers to know if they’re being discriminated against is to talk openly about what they earn. 

Colorado and New Hampshire have already passed similar wage transparency legislation.

Councilmember Corey Johnson [D-3rd District] called chronically poor working conditions “shamefull” and said they also “stifle economic growth.”

“It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a matter of human rights,” the Manhattan coucilmember added. 

Both councilmembers Johnson and Elizabeth Crowley [D-30th District], spent a portion of yesterday’s hearing wearing red T-shirts provided by the 15 Now campaign. 

The New York City chapter of 15 Now is part of the national campaign that successfully helped establish a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle.

“We need $15, or the closest we can get to it,” Councilman Johnson said. 

April 21, 2015

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