Cuomo forms Task Force to target worker exploitation at nail salons, farms, other industries

Staff Reports Posted 17 July 2015 at 12:00 am

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a first-of-its-kind statewide Task Force to root out worker exploitation issues in multiple industries in New York State.

Building on the governor’s initiative to protect workers in the nail salon industry, the Task Force will identify and halt illegal practices in more industries across the state, including at farms.

The Task Force is composed of 10 state agencies including the Department of State, Department of Labor and Department of Agriculture and Markets, and will work in partnership with an advisory committee that is charged with providing legislative, regulatory and administrative recommendations. Cuomo made the announcement while in the Bronx signing legislation to protect and support nail salon workers in New York.

“If there is a state that is going to take a stand against worker exploitation, it is New York,” Cuomo said in a statement today. “New York offers a promise that our arms and hearts are open to those who come here to work and build a better future for themselves – and we will not tolerate worker exploitation, period. It’s not a Democratic or a Republican issue – it’s what we believe, and together we’re going to make this a reality.”

The multi-agency Task Force is a critical addition to New York’s fight against worker exploitation and builds on the Governor’s initiative protecting workers in nail salons. The governor was joined today by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to sign legislation that helps protect nail salon employees from unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices.

“The Assembly Majority has a long history of defending the rights of workers in every industry,” Heastie said. “Indeed, worker exploitation is pervasive problem across many industries. Gov. Cuomo’s Task Force will examine workers’ rights and conditions across our state and I look forward to the recommendations.”

The Task Force will begin by addressing issues that were discovered based on worker complaints directly to the state and referrals from advocacy organizations. Workers are often victimized through wage theft, human trafficking, retaliation, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, unstable or unscheduled hours and illegal deductions for supplies, training or uniforms, Cuomo said.

Anyone with information of suspected worker abuse should contact the Task Force Hotline at 1-888-469-7365. Callers can remain anonymous.

Enforcement efforts will focus on industries with the highest rates of employer non-compliance and where workers are least likely to come forward, for fear of retaliation. Specifically, industries were selected based on geographic or community isolation of the workforce within the industry, danger of the occupation based on reported death rates, state-wide investigator experiences, evaluation of high violation rates for complaints with a low number of complaints, prevalence of off-the-books employment by industry and statistics and percentage of the immigrant workforce in each industry.

Initial target areas include industries such as nail salons, farming, childcare, cleaning, home health care, laundry, restaurants, retail, construction, landscaping, car washes, supermarkets, janitorial services and truck and waste disposal drivers.

The Task Force will include representatives from state agencies including the Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of Health, Workers’ Compensation Board, Department of Tax and Finance, Department of Agriculture and Markets, Office of Children and Family Services, Office of Faith Based Services, Division of Criminal Justice Services and State Police.

The agencies will have more than 700 investigators, including multilingual investigators who speak Bengali, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, Hindi, Haitian Creole, and Korean. Language access services will be available in all languages at all agencies.

The Task Force will work in partnership with an advisory committee that will meet monthly and is charged with providing legislative, regulatory and administrative recommendations to the administration. The committee will be charged with providing its first set of recommendations by December of this year to be considered for next year’s legislative session.