Wage Theft in NYC
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated in New York City. That's according to a new report co-authored by Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project. She details the new report that reveals widespread abuse. Plus, Carolina Ferrera, former retail worker and member of the Retail Action Project, a project of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, describes her personal experience of wage theft.
Labor Violations in Congress and in NY Streets
By Tom Robbins Tuesday, Feb 9 2010
Wage justice has long been the signature issue of labor lawyer M. Patricia Smith, and that is exactly what so spooked the Right when President Obama proposed her last year as top attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor. For nine months, Republicans blocked Smith's appointment.
But last week, Democrats barreled the nomination through, using one of their last 60-vote majorities before Republican Scott Brown took the seat long held by pro-labor lion Ted Kennedy.
Smith is a former deputy attorney general who was picked by Eliot Spitzer in 2007 as New York's labor commissioner. She stepped into an agency that had long served as a substation for patronage and hacks. One of ex-governor George Pataki's commissioners, James McGowan, wound up convicted of on-the-job bribery. A top labor aide assigned to handle apprentice programs instead looted funds intended for job training.
This was pretty dismal stuff for an agency once led by the mighty Frances Perkins, the feisty FDR ally who became the first female cabinet member and whose own passion for labor justice was galvanized after she watched 146 workers tumble to their deaths in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911.
Smith set about trying to recapture that mission, and one of her ideas was that since the state lacked the manpower to investigate every workplace, it could designate citizen groups to act as watchdogs. This "Wage Watch" campaign was funded with all of $6,000 and enlisted a half-dozen groups, including two unions, to scout out problems. The watchdogs would help both workers and employers know the laws, and pass on complaints to labor officials.
"Just as no one wants to live in an area riddled with crime, nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where workers are paid sweatshop wages," said Smith in January 2009 when she announced the program.