Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Abigail Lootens / Christine Gianakis
Department of Consumer Affairs
(212) 436-0042

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Department of Consumer Affairs' Office of Labor Policy and Standards, with New York City Commission on Human Rights and the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Host Public Hearing on the State of Workers' Rights in New York City

Public Hearing is one of City’s Office of Labor Policy & Standard’s Initiatives to Build New Generation of Workplace Protections for New York City

NEW YORK, NY –The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Office of Labor Policy & Standards (OLPS), in collaboration with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), tonight will convene a public hearing on the state of workers’ rights in New York City at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. DCA’s OLPS is the largest municipal labor standards office in the country with a robust staff of attorneys, investigators, outreach and education specialists, as well as research and policy analysts. Set up in 2016 to be a dedicated hub in City government for workers’ issues, the Office will author a report following the hearing that sets forth policies the City can pursue, particularly in light of the lack of commitment from the presidential administration to workers’ rights. Building on its record of effective enforcement of municipal labor laws, tonight’s hearing and the report that will follow is one of OLPS’ many initiatives as a leader among local governments around the country that are seeking to step into the gap on strengthening workplace protections.

Dozens of workers and organizations are expected to deliver spoken and written testimony, which will help to inform OLPS’ future efforts to protect workers, and offer insight on the emerging gap in labor protections, particularly for low-wage and vulnerable workers. The hearing will begin with three panels focused on issues facing immigrant and paid care workers, as well as those working in the on-demand economy; the panels will be followed by open testimony on challenges and concerns in the workplace.

“Unpredictable schedules, wage theft, and discrimination are just a handful of the problems plaguing workers in New York City,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “With federal government priorities shifting away from protecting vulnerable workforces like immigrants and contingent workers, DCA’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards is committed to advocating on their behalf and strengthening labor protections and worker benefits in New York City. With the help of MOIA and CCHR, this hearing will help the City better understand how they can step in on the municipal level to protect our city’s hardworking families.”

“Everyone in New York City is protected against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, regardless of their immigration status,” said Chair and Commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Carmelyn P. Malalis. “New York City is home to one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country, which protects workers from being threatened, harassed, paid less, or exploited because of their immigration status or national origin. The NYC Commission on Human Rights works every day to protect workers from discrimination and to hold violators accountable. We look forward to continuing our work with DCA and MOIA to ensure that all workers in New York City are being treated fairly and with respect.”

“The Public Hearing on the State of Workers’ Rights in New York City is a needed opportunity for the City to hear from workers about their experiences and learn how we can best protect and support our workforce, particularly our immigrant workforce, a vital source of our city’s strength,” said Assistant Commissioner Kavita Pawria-Sanchez of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “We are committed to workers’ rights and to fighting for justice for all immigrant workers, regardless of status.”

DCA continues to lead the nation on advocacy around the importance of municipal workplace rights and protections like paid sick leave and, with the creation of the Office of Labor Policy & Standards (OLPS) at DCA, it is New York City’s central resource for workers and employers. The Office enforces, implements, and works on the development of a new generation of minimum labor standards for a stronger city. It focuses on ensuring all workers can realize these rights, regardless of immigration status. In addition to the Paid Sick Leave Law, OLPS is implementing and/or enforcing a number of municipal workplace laws, including the Commuter Benefits Law, the City Living and Prevailing Wage Laws, and the Grocery Workers Retention Act. The Office also houses two new first-of-their-kind laws: the City’s new Paid Care Division, which is dedicated to defending the rights of paid care workers, improving the quality of paid care jobs, and strengthening the paid care system, and the Freelance isn’t Free Act, which for the first time creates a robust statutory scheme for freelance workers to recover unpaid wages. OLPS is charged with conducting original data collection and research, policy development, education and outreach on key workplace issues, fostering relationships with community partner, and advocating for new protections to help New York City’s working families and communities thrive.

Employers and workers can visit or call 311 for more information about paid sick leave and commuter benefits or for assistance for paid care workers. Information about DCA OLPS, as well as the Workers' Bill of Rights can also be found online. These materials and others will be available in more languages coming soon.

Employers and employees may also visit to learn more about anti-discrimination protections under the NYC Human Rights Law.

“With so much ambiguity around key issues of labor, immigration, and social justice coming from the federal government, and the resulting fear it is causing in our communities, we in New York City must make clear to our workers, immigrants, and families that we are here for them and will work to protect their rights,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of the Council Consumer Affairs Committee. “We thank the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the City Commission on Human Rights for convening this hearing, and we are eager to work with the three agencies to raise awareness of vital protections.”

"New York City has long been the home of the labor movement as the birthplace of unions to the epicenter of the fight for $15,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “As we continue to fight for protection from detrimental practices that put workers’ lives and jobs at risk, we are focused on combating the anti-worker sentiment in Washington. New York is a city that will always stand by its workers, and today’s hearing will ensure that we are taking into account the true needs of New York City’s labor force."

“I was proud to sponsor Paid Sick Leave and the Fair Chance Act, but good laws are only the first step in guaranteeing workplace fairness,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Outreach is critical if we’re going to make sure our laws are enforced and New Yorker’s rights are protected. I commend the Mayor's administration for holding this hearing and inviting New Yorkers to testify on their own experiences with labor standards in their workplaces.”

“If we are to hold employers accountable for their actions, every worker must be informed and prepared to defend the rights gained over a century of labor struggle,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Whether you are an employee in the traditional or ‘gig’ economy, I urge all workers to educate themselves and fight back against all forms of wage theft, discrimination, and other kinds of abuse. I thank the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the New York City Commission on Human Rights, and LaGuardia Community College for holding this important event.”

“Providing workers with safe work environments, closing the wage gap and fighting against discrimination have long been priorities of mine,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen. “That is why I supported the expansion of paid sick leave and I am a co-sponsor of legislation to improve scheduling practices for fast food workers. With the uncertainly swirling around Washington D.C. we must work to strengthen workers’ rights here in New York City. I applaud DCA, MOIA, and CCHR for organizing this public hearing.”

“Especially with the current administration in Washington, now is the time for New York to step up and be a leader in advancing workers’ rights,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “We’ve come a long way, but we still see too many employees face unfair schedules, stagnant wages, and inadequate benefits. In one of the most expensive cities in the world, we need to make sure that hardworking New Yorkers are given respect, dignity, and an opportunity to support their families. I’m grateful to the Administration, to the DCA, MOIA, and CCHR for hosting this important event.”

“As President Trump creates what might shape up to be the most anti-worker administration in history – it’s up to New York City to be on the side that protects working New Yorkers,” said Council Member Brad Lander, the Council’s Deputy Leader for Policy. “New York City has already made huge strides on advancing progressive policies to improve workers’ lives with guaranteed paid sick days, a higher minimum wage, new protections for freelance workers, and stronger protections against discrimination. Thanks to the leadership of DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas, MOIA, and CCHR, this hearing will put New York City on the forefront of local municipalities’ fierce resistance against the Trump administration and its efforts to undo the progress we’ve made to protect workers.”

“Wage theft, denial of benefits, and unsafe work conditions are reported in New York City with alarming frequency and in a wide variety of industries,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “The construction industry alone has been devastated by a number of construction site deaths in just two years. The most vulnerable workers include recent immigrants, day laborers, contingency and paid care workers. The City Council is working to protect everyone from illegal employment practices, danger, and exploitation. The Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the New York City Commission on Human Rights are providing a valuable platform to examine ways for New York to improve protections for all workers.”

“I must commend the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the Commission on Human Rights for hosting this timely public hearing examining workers’ rights in New York City,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “As Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, I am particularly concerned with protecting the well-being of our city’s labor force and enhancing workforce opportunities for all who seek them. While we continue to celebrate victories like the passage of Paid Sick Leave and the Grocery Worker Retention Act, we must do more to address labor issues across all fields. I am confident that this hearing will net actionable goals that will ultimately level the playing field for all working families and ensure that the American dream remains within reach”.

“As the prime cosponsor of several bills related to strengthening and protecting workers rights, I am committed to ensuring that our city meets the needs of all workers, especially those whose needs might otherwise be overlooked,” said Council Member Debi Rose. “I welcome this timely hearing topic, and I hope all who are able can participate.”

“To create better policy that truly helps our city’s workforce, it’s vitally important that we hear from those actually affected by the policy,” said Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer. “As a city, we have a responsibility to defend all working New Yorkers who often feel powerless and unable to fight for basic protections. This public hearing on the state of workers’ rights will help us understand where we must improve when it comes to creating and enforcing laws that protect our city’s most vulnerable workers from abuse.”

“As many of our students are recent immigrants—more than 40 percent are from countries outside the US—we’re particularly pleased to host this important discussion on our campus,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow. “This is an important opportunity for our students to speak directly with Mayor de Blasio’s team about their experiences and concerns. We want all of our graduates to be able to pursue careers without discrimination, and with pay equal to that of non-immigrants.”

“Employers have always exploited immigrants who want nothing more than a dignified job,” said Oswaldo Mendoza, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) member. “But, even more so in the times in which we are living, these same employers now feel even more empowered, and often do what they want, without fear of consequences.”

“We find that especially in authorized [cell phone] dealers, wage theft is rampant,” said Bianca Cunningham, Communications Workers of America. “People are often asked to clock out and work through lunch, and clock out to avoid overtime. We have spoken with many retail workers who are employed by authorized dealers who have complained about issues around wage theft.”

“Many [employers] exploit immigrant workers and use the current political climate to their advantage,” said Jose Francisco, an industrial laundry worker. “They understand that immigrant workers feel very intimidated right now and will be afraid to complain to government agencies. I am happy to be a union member from the Laundry Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU. Under our union contract all immigrants have protections.”

“For years, MFY has heard that low-wage and immigrant workers often face a terrible trade-off: they can protect their health and lose their job, or they can work through injuries and illness, forego needed medical care, and ignore unsafe conditions at work,” said Maria Goodell, MFY Legal Services, Inc. “In today’s climate, these problems are much worse, particularly for immigrant workers. Even the limited reassurances about protection against retaliation that we as lawyers had been able to give immigrant workers are now in serious doubt.”

“Pay rates are too low to enable people to build sustainable careers in this expensive city, with hourly rates often dipping below $15,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America. “Some production companies offer health benefits, but only to the very few employees who stay with one company long enough to qualify for coverage, and only if the employees can afford to pay hefty premiums out of their own pockets. This is how the gig economy works, a system of high-status sweatshops.”

“Job loss, abusive changes in work conditions and other tailored threats, like deportation of undocumented workers, are used with little restraint by employers across a diverse array of low-wage workplaces to gain workers’ silent acceptance of abusive pay and conditions,” said Brittany Scott, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI). “Contingent work arrangements exacerbate this vulnerability shared by workers throughout today’s precarious low-wage sector. Among the nation’s frontline low-wage workers, regardless of the underlying issue being raised, roughly one in two who bring attention to abuse or try to improve work conditions face employer retaliation.”

The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCA licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCA protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCA empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCA also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCA and its work, call 311 or visit DCA at or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.