Wage Watch, NY Dept. of Labor reaches out to grass-roots campaign to fight wage violations

"New York Wage Watch is labor law enforcement at the purest, most grassroots level. This program will allow unions, community groups and churches to engage in the fight against the exploitation of workers in our neighborhoods. It is critical that employers do not take advantage of workers and their families during these difficult economic times."-Stuart Appelbaum, President of the 100,000 member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

When a worker gets screwed, when they work for sub-par wages, no overtime and sometimes no wages at all, we are all getting screwed. It's called slavery. I know that even though I am a good worker, I can not compete with someone who gets no wages. Now thanks to the efforts of 6 http://img144.imageshack.us/img144/1005/wagewatchwo5.jpgorganizations and the New York State Dept. Of Labor we will have a new grass-roots pilot program where we can get back at the scumbags that rob working New Yorkers.

It makes me crazy to think that not only are there people who are competing against construction workers for less than minimum wage, for well over 70 hours a week, and sometimes they don't get paid at all. This has been a long time coming, last year, we learned about the Yellow Rat Bastard workers who were shorted over $1.5 million and just as recently as last month the delivery men at Manhattan's Food Emporium received $3 million for unpaid wages and there have been over a million workers who have been screwed in between. Just take a look at some of the headlines over at Gangbox :
I love how all the anti-union jackasses say that unions were necessary at one time, but now we have laws that do their job, open your eyes, the laws have been ignored for far too long, even Wal-Mart just got pinched for $640 million in back wages.

From the New York State Dept. Of Labor press release:
In recent years, the Labor Department has uncovered widespread labor law violations in a broad range of industries and locations throughout the state. An industry-based investigation of car washes in 2008 revealed that over 78% of New York City car washes inspected were not paying minimum wage or overtime. Nearly half of 303 employers visited on joint enforcement sweeps in Buffalo, Albany, the Bronx, and Queens required follow up for wage and hour violations. The Labor Department found serious violations at ordinary stores, restaurants, and offices statewide, as well as at state icons like the Saratoga Race Course, where over a hundred backstretch workers interviewed reported a pattern of illegal wages, and at the Erie County Fair, where bathroom attendants were paid no wages and were even forced to give half of their tips to a subcontractor.

"These violations are far more common than many people realize, but they plague our communities and diminish the quality of life for New York's workers," said Commissioner Smith. "We are enforcing the law as creatively and aggressively as we can, but the government cannot do it alone. We need concerned members of the public to help raise awareness about wage theft, to educate workers and employers about the law, and to help serve as a bridge between our agency and workers who might be unlikely to come to us on their own."

Over the past few years, the Department of Labor has forged informal partnerships with advocacy groups and grassroots organizations on behalf of workers. A more proactive approach by the Division of Labor Standards, combined with efforts of the newly created Bureau of Immigrant Workers' Rights, has resulted in more sustained and effective partnering. One such relationship, with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), and Make the Road New York, led the Department to investigate a commercial strip in Bushwick, Brooklyn. During the course of this investigation, the Labor Department found $350,000 in wage underpayments were owed to 60 workers. In the ensuing weeks and months, the RWDSU and Make the Road New York maintained a presence in the area, talking with businesses and workers about labor law. A labor law seminar was also conducted for employers in the area. Labor law compliance appears to have increased in Bushwick as a result of this joint effort. New York Wage Watch aims to replicate the enhanced effectiveness resulting from the coordination of law enforcement efforts with ongoing presence and involvement of community members.
Bruce Both, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 continues:
"Can you imagine getting up in the morning, going to work, if you get a tip, you get paid. If not, you work for free. We cannot and won't allow that,"
No, in my America we can not. So here's how it's gonna work, from NY1(video at link):
Labor Laws Focus Of New Watch Program
The State Department of Labor unveiled a new pilot program Monday to protect workers from employers who break labor laws. NY1's Taunia Hottman filed the following report.

Among the businesses in New York, what's described as an invisible crime is about to be attacked by a new and longer arm of the law.

On Monday, the department of labor launched a wage enforcement program called Wage Watch. It will use community groups and ordinary people to be on the lookout for employers who pay under minimum wage, don't give overtime pay, steal tips or those who simply don't pay at all.

"If you go to the neighborhood and you see workers working really long hours, seven days a week, you know there are problems there," said Patricia Smith, Labor Department Commissioner.

Last year, the labor department collected $25 million in unpaid wages for 17,000 workers throughout the state. SoHo retailer Yellow Rat Bastard agreed to pay almost $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid employees.

Others found to be violating state wage laws included the Saigon Grill on the Upper West Side and the Rico Car Wash in the Bronx.

Fernando Hernandez, a construction worker, says he blew the whistle when his boss continued to string him along.

"They never paid us. We worked for weeks sometimes and we got paid for a couple of days, never got paid what we were owed," said Hernandez.

The labor department says industries that employ mainly immigrant workers are among the biggest violators. Many are encouraged more will be caught now that Wage Watch is putting more eyes and ears on the street.

"We're very excited about this initiative because it not only helps to enforce the law but helps to strengthen it in the future," said Jei Fong, Chinese Staff and Workers Association.

"Before we didn't have any support, now we do. We can come together to get our rights protected," said Hernandez.

On another front, a bill in the state legislature would raise the fine, currently up to $2,000, for employers who fire workers who report wage violations. It would also force those employers to give the workers their jobs back.

The New York Times in part continues in the article "Street-Level Groups Enlisted to Report Labor Violations":
The six-month pilot will begin with six participants: the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, which will focus on Chinatown, Flushing and parts of Long Island; Make the Road New York, which will focus on Bushwick; the Workplace Project, based on Long Island; the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which will look at high-end supermarkets; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which will focus on retail stores in Lower Manhattan, Bushwick, the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and parts of Queens; and the Centro del Inmigrante, based on Staten Island.

The six groups will conduct know-your-rights training, providing employers with information about compliance and distributing brochures to workers in supermarkets, laundromats, nail salons, day-labor sites and other work areas. They will have a designated contact in the Labor Department’s Division of Labor Standards, which enforces wage and hour laws, to whom they can refer violations or questions.

The department is to provide training and materials to the groups starting on Feb. 7.

After the first experiment in New York City and on Long Island, the Labor Department will seek additional groups for the program. The groups must be nongovernmental and nonprofit, and can include religious organizations, student groups, labor unions, business associations or neighborhood groups.
The first six groups that will be involved in the pilot program will be:
Centro del Inmigrante in Staten Island; Chinese Staff and Workers' Association; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU); Make the Road New York; United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500; and The Workplace Project in Long Island.
I know quite a few places that screw their workers, let's ask the Indian and Pakistan workers in the newsstands, the Mexican and Ecuadorian workers in the Bagel stores, they are all doing it for less than I did when i was a kid.

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