Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1107 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 06:31:06 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Take a Stand for Workers’ Rights on May Day and Every Day http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6901:take-a-stand-for-workers-rights-on-may-day-and-every-day http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6901:take-a-stand-for-workers-rights-on-may-day-and-every-day salas1

DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas, the author


Sitting in front of more than 150 people, Maria Aguilar broke down in tears as she shared how often she experiences discrimination and abuse at the hands of her employers. Maria is a day laborer at “La Parada,” a street corner in Williamsburg where every day she waits and hopes for the chance to be picked up by someone looking for last-minute child care or housekeeping services. Maria is almost always a victim of wage theft and despite working long days and weeks she does not get paid minimum wage, let alone the overtime wages she is owed. After years of toiling under terrible conditions, she joined other day laborers and formed a worker co-op of cleaners with the hopes of regaining some sense of control over who she works for, and on what terms.

She is one of the “lucky” ones. Most workers may never get to set the terms of their employment. Take Pierre, a young father and husband working for a fast food restaurant, who choked up as he told us how he had to wait until Sunday to figure out which two or three days he might be scheduled to work that week, and having to choose between putting food on the table or paying his phone bill. Or Nereyda, a transgender Latina and member of Make the Road New York, who experienced sexual harassment and wage theft at the restaurant where she worked. When she finally obtained a court decision in her favor, her employer went bankrupt and shut down to avoid having to pay her back wages.

New York City stands against these and other exploitative labor practices; we are committed to protecting all New Yorkers regardless of national origin, race, religion/creed, gender, and gender identity.

Mayor de Blasio‘s legislative proposal to address the terrible scheduling practices in the fast food industry by requiring employers to give advance notice to workers of their schedules will make it so that workers like Pierre can plan ahead and know how much money they will bring home. And as our Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS) gets ready to implement the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, gig economy workers will get assistance in recouping money they are owed and navigating the court system. We are building a new generation of workplace protections, and just in time.

A few days ago, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS), along with the city’s Commission on Human Rights and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, held a public hearing on the state of workers’ rights at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City. We took testimony from nearly 50 workers in the construction, fast food and retail, home health care, restaurant, and taxi industries. I have spent nearly 20 years working in the field of labor compliance at all levels of government, and the stories of rampant wage theft and unsafe workplaces that we heard struck a very familiar chord with me. What I found even more alarming was that the exploitative conditions these workers endure do not discriminate. They have spread across countless industries and span racial and socio-economic divides.

While we wait to see what direction the Trump administration takes in terms of enforcing key workplace protections, we are preparing for the worst. A proposed $2.5 billion budget cut for the United States Department of Labor could result in a gutting of enforcement staff and further deterioration of working conditions. Now more than ever, it will be up to progressive cities and states to step up enforcement efforts and fill the gap left by the federal government.

New York City, led by Mayor de Blasio, is doing just that. We have been enforcing New York’s Paid Sick Leave Law for just over three years, and since January, we have seen a 30 percent increase in the number of complaints filed against employers not following the law. We are encouraged by the fact that people are not shying away from coming to us for help, but this troubling trend coincides with the timing of anti-immigrant policies coming out of D.C.

Today -- Monday, May 1, or May Day -- will be filled with marches and protests, and everyone who cares about workers’ rights, including those at my agency, will be seeking to elevate the issues that plague workers in this country. It has become ever clearer that worker exploitation is an equal opportunity evil that cannot be condemned just once a year. We need to devote more time and resources to filling current labor gaps if we hope to secure a safer and stronger workplace for our children.

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Lorelei Salas is the Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, which houses the Office of Labor Policy and Standards. Workers can learn more about what the office does at nyc.gov/dca or by calling 311. On Twitter at @NYCDCA.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Take a Stand for Workers’ Rights on May Day and Every Day Sun, 30 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
In Trump Era, Workers Will Demand New York City & State Step Up to Defend Them http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6667:in-trump-era-workers-will-demand-new-york-city-state-step-up-to-defend-them http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6667:in-trump-era-workers-will-demand-new-york-city-state-step-up-to-defend-them mtr pic somos hermanas kid march

photo: Make The Road New York


The symbolism of Donald Trump’s nomination of fast-food CEO Andy Puzder for U.S. Secretary of Labor could not be clearer: at a time when fast food workers are leading the fight for fair pay and dignified working conditions in this country, President-elect Trump has decided to declare war on the Fight for $15 movement. And here in New York, workers like me are ready to fight back.

Puzder has fought attempts to raise the minimum wage, argued against expanding eligibility for overtime pay, and supports repealing the Affordable Care Act. At a time when corporations have been working hard to fight minimum wage increases and roll back workers’ rights through forced arbitration of employee grievances, misclassifying workers, and automation, they could find no better ally in harming workers than Puzder.

Like President-elect Trump, Puzder peddles his preferred policies as trickle-down-economics: more money for CEOs equals more jobs for working people. But these ideas have been discredited for decades -- they’re the reason that wages for workers like me have stagnated for so long. And, they’re rooted in the offensive assumption that some people -- service workers, immigrants, and people of color -- deserve to live in poverty no matter how hard they work, while corporate CEOs deserve to get rich off their labor.

A Puzder appointment is bad news for all working people, but the situation is even more precarious for immigrant workers, who already experience on-the-job exploitation like wage theft at triple the rate of the rest of the workforce. A CEO-led Department of Labor, coupled with the nativist agenda of Donald Trump, sends a clear message to employers to ramp up a strategy they have long-used to try to subjugate immigrant workers: weaponizing immigration status to retaliate and intimidate.

Immigrant workers in New York have been leading the labor movement for decades, most recently winning historic increases in the state minimum wage, some of the strongest legal protections against wage theft in the country, and collective bargaining rights in industries, like carwashes, considered “unorganizable.” We remain ready ready to fight, but we will need energetic allies in our city and state governments and creative new strategies to ensure that we protect against the worst of what comes out of Washington, D.C. and continue to win victories closer to home.

First on the agenda will be making sure that the state’s $15 minimum wage victory becomes a reality for all New Yorkers, especially those who will be most vulnerable during a Trump presidency. This means shortening the timetable for reaching $15 upstate, raising tipped workers to the full minimum wage, and implementing new strategies for combating wage theft and employee misclassification. Workers, especially low-wage workers, also need fair scheduling rights in order to better plan their lives and support their families; legislation has been introduced at the City level and should be explored throughout the state.

There’s an old labor movement saying that sometimes management is the best organizer, meaning a bad boss can be the best incentive to organize. While working people in New York, and throughout the country, certainly have our work cut out for us under a Trump administration, Andrew Puzder’s offensive agenda could make him our best organizer yet. We will fight, and we will win.

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Daniel Cortéz is a member of Make the Road New York (MRNY), which, with New York Communities for Change, is hosting a workers’ forum with leading government officials on Wednesday, December 14 at 7pm at New York Law School to discuss how to defend economic security for immigrant workers under the Trump administration.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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In Trump Era, Workers Will Demand New York City & State Step Up to Defend Them Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Grocery Worker Bill Provokes Rare Level of Council Dissent http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6103:grocery-worker-bill-provokes-rare-level-of-council-dissent http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6103:grocery-worker-bill-provokes-rare-level-of-council-dissent MMV pathmark

Speaker Mark-Viverito on 125th Street (photo: William Alatriste) 


When a bill comes to the floor of the New York City Council, it is guaranteed to pass. And so it was on Tuesday, when the Council voted through the Grocery Worker Retention Act, which mandates that new owners of large grocery stores maintain employment of the store workforce for 90 days. But while most bills pass unanimously and some garner only two or three dissenting votes from the Council's three-member Republican caucus, the GWRA garnered seven "no" votes.

Five of the Council's 47 Democrats and two of the three Republicans voted against the bill, which passed 40-7 as three members were absent and there is one vacant Council seat after a recent resignation. (A Gotham Gazette report previously found that in 2014, six was the most "no" votes received by any bill passing through the Council.)

The fact that several Council members took time to explain opposition to the bill during the vote gave a rare semblance of debate to what is typically an atmosphere of near or full unanimity. Even among the dissenters, reasons varied, though most called the bill government overreach into the private sector. For the overwhelming majority who voted in favor of the bill, the rationale is that the grocery industry is in the midst of an especially volatile period that has had severe consequences for many working class New Yorkers and their families.

"I believe this is a well-intentioned effort and I have great respect for the bill's sponsor," Council Member Dan Garodnick said Wednesday, leading to his "no" vote, and referring to Council Member Daneek Miller. "But with this bill we are interjecting local government into private enterprise in a way that we should not be doing. We are going too far."

Council members supporting the bill, led by Miller, explained and defended the bill as necessary and pointed to the fact that the city has taken such measures before, namely to protect building service workers.

After defending the bill on the Council floor Tuesday, Council Member Brad Lander took to Twitter Wednesday morning to respond to criticism of the GWRA by grocery store owners in a Crain's New York Business article. Lander wrote, "We have the same modest "worker retention" law in place for building service workers, and no business collapses have been reported."

During a press conference before the vote, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pointed to that precedent and said that the Council may be looking at other industries as well. "There is a similar bill that we passed several years ago when it comes to service workers," she said. "And we wanted to move this very quickly and that doesn't mean we're not looking at other industries as well."

"We needed to move this very quickly because of the recent closures and bankruptcy and what some of these workers were going through," Mark-Viverito continued, pointing to examples in her northern Manhattan district. She added that just because this grocery store bill was being passed, "doesn't mean that we're not looking at other industries, 'cause we are."

On the Council floor, Garodnick said that all workers should have rights, including the right to unionize, and that the Council should support efforts to unionize and fight for fair wages and benefits. He went on, though, to analyze the bill's provisions, asking rhetorically, "Why...would we protect workers only for 90 days? Why not six months? Or a year? Or more? Why are we limiting ourselves to this industry? Why not protect the workers in our local pizza shop? Or even the financial services industry? If you buy a supermarket with 100 workers and you believe that you can make it survive and make a profit, and you only need 90 workers, we should let you do that, without interference."

Joining Garodnick in casting "no" votes were fellow Democratic Council Members David Greenfield, Rafael Espinal, James Vacca, and Antonio Reynoso; as well as Republicans Joseph Borelli and Steven Matteo. The Council's other Republican member, Eric Ulrich, was a co-sponsor of the bill and voted in favor. Reynoso said that the bill did little for people in his district, where the "supermarkets" are local bodegas, often owned by immigrants struggling to get by.

While Garodnick's 'overreach' critiques were echoed by others who voted against the bill - and even acknowledged by some who voted for it - 40 Council members supported the bill. Council members from Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx spoke of the negative consequences of losing supermarkets in their districts or from the mass layoffs that disrupted communities after a supermarket sale.

Council Member Danny Dromm, of Queens, said, "I have seen what happens when these small supermarkets are closed...we had this situation in Jackson Heights about two years ago when one day, two weeks before Christmas, employees arrived to find out they had been locked out of the door, and when the new owner came in and took over the supermarket, he would not rehire the workers, even though they had not done anything wrong. I totally agree with this legislation, nothing in this law says that the workers have to stay on beyond the 90 days."

At the press conference before the full Council meeting, Mark-Viverito and Miller positioned the bill as an important step in the Council's ongoing work to protect workers. "This City Council is committed to protecting the rights and dignity of all workers in our city," Mark-Viverito said, "and with this legislation, we're taking another step toward that goal. Grocery store employees provide a valuable service to their community - we still have too many food deserts across the city of New York, my community is one of them. And at a minimum, these workers should have an opportunity to prove their worth before losing their jobs to changes in ownership."

The Council has taken an aggressive stance in regulating workplace and workforce issues, including expanding paid sick leave and moving through legislation to protect freelancers.

In outlining the GWRA, Council Member Miller said, "Now keep in mind these are not small bodegas or smaller stores, these are at least 10,000 feet of sales, not storage, not parking. So this is significant space and we need to protect workers, but more importantly, protect communities."

The language of the bill defines which employees and what stores are covered:

"The term "eligible grocery employee" means any person employed by a grocery establishment subject to a change in control, and who has been employed by such establishment on a full-time or a part-time basis for a period of at least six months prior to the effective date of the change in control; provided that such term shall not include persons who are managerial, supervisory or confidential employees or persons who on average regularly worked fewer than eight hours per week during such period."

"The term "grocery establishment" means any retail store in the city of New York in which the sale of food for off-site consumption comprises fifty percent or more of store sales and that exceeds 10,000 square feet in size, exclusive of any storage space, loading dock, food preparation space or eating area designated for the consumption of prepared food."

Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill at an upcoming ceremony.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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Grocery Worker Bill Provokes Rare Level of Council Dissent Wed, 20 Jan 2016 20:05:18 +0000