July 16 2015

Governor Cuomo Announces Statewide Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation and Abuse Throughout New York State (WorkersCompensation)

Albany, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) - Governor 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 groundbreaking initiative to protect workers in the nail salon industry, the Task Force will identify and halt illegal practices in more industries across the state. 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. The Governor 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,” said Governor Cuomo. “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.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said: “The Assembly Majority has a long history of defending the rights of workers in every industry. In 2010 I was proud to have led the fight to give workers across this state a voice with the enactment of the Wage Theft Prevention Act. I am proud that today, we take that victory a step further and empower nail salon workers with the support, the oversight, and the knowledge they need to go to work each day in a safe environment and be paid fair wages for the labor they provide. Indeed, worker exploitation is pervasive problem across many industries. Governor Cuomo's Task Force will examine workers' rights and conditions across our state and I look forward to the recommendations.”

Senator Michael Venditto said: “This legislation strikes the right balance by protecting the employees of nail salons from exploitation as well as our consumers. It requires the registration of a new class of employees who are going to be called nail specialty trainees. By giving employees the proper training and protecting them from unsafe working conditions we can in turn give our consumers peace of mind.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim said: “I want to thank Governor Cuomo for stepping up to bring immediate improvements in the nail salon industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs to female immigrant workers. As the main sponsor of this three-way agreement in the Assembly, we worked non-stop for weeks to strike a fair balance in protecting workers, encouraging good operators, and rooting out bad owners. Governor Cuomo has been at the center of bringing legislators from all across this state to help working families, immigrant communities, and small business owners. He has shown great leadership in managing and leading the most diverse state in the nation. I look forward to working closely with him and his team on continuing to empower the exploitable workforces in the future.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said: “With the signing of this important legislation, New York is leading the way to end the mistreatment of workers in the nail salon industry. Just as important, we’re setting a precedent and taking steps forward through the creation of a Task Force to ensure that all workers are protected from exploitation. We thank the Governor for his leadership as well as the Senate and the Assembly for standing up for workers in the nail salon industry, and look forward to ensuring all workers are afforded the same dignity and respect on the job.”

Partnership for NYC President and CEO Kathryn Wylde said: “Governor Cuomo’s commitment to address conditions of worker exploitation are important to New York’s employers, most of whom are committed to responsible treatment of workers. This task force offers an opportunity for the business community to help the Governor ensure that the laws, regulations and enforcement mechanisms are in place to prevent abuse of workers.”

32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa said: “We must protect workers in all facets of the economy, especially those who may be vulnerable to exploitation. Governor Cuomo is making clear that there is no room for malpractice among employers in the state, and those who violate the law will be subject to severe consequences. With these new laws to protect nail salon workers and a new task force to investigate exploitation across other industries, New York is moving forward in defense of unprotected workers.”

New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Vincent Alvarez said: “Today's announcement is a move to protect the rights and improve livelihoods of a segment of our workforce that is too often exploited. The creation of this task force sends a clear message that we will not tolerate worker mistreatment on any level. This is an example of the historic change that can be created through productive partnerships between the labor movement and government.”

Retail Council President and CEO Ted Potrikus said: “One exploited worker is one too many, and today, we are taking important strides to ensure that no one in New York State is abused by their employer. From protecting nail salon workers with new laws, to launching a task force to investigate issues of exploitation in other industries, Governor Cuomo has been the strong, steadfast advocate for workers that we need. These actions will lead us to a safer and better state for employees across the spectrum.”

Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary Labarbera said: “For generations, the plight of abused workers went unnoticed – but no longer. Alongside Governor Cuomo and his new task force, we are giving a voice to those exploited workers and taking important steps to regulate industries that have for too long flown under the radar. The creation of this task force gives countless works hope for a brighter future, without unfair and inhumane business practices.”

NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer said: “This legislation to protect nail salon workers is a great first step toward rooting out employers who abuse or disregard New York State’s labor laws, and the Governor’s new cross industry task force will keep that progress going for other workers as well. These actions by Governor Cuomo are moving closer to ensuring workers across the state –regardless of their industry –are paid in accordance with state law and treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Adhikaar Executive Director Luna Ranjit said: “Today is a great day for the cause of rights, dignity and safe working conditions for workers in New York State. From new laws to protect nail salon workers to the Governor’s new exploited worker task force, we are seeing important signs of progress from the Governor and his team. Now, nail salon employees can go to work knowing that they have rights to fair wages and humane conditions, and hopefully in the near future, every New Yorker can say the same.”

PowHer New York Founder Beverly Cooper Neufeld said: “When it became clear that exploitation and unsafe conditions were the norm for women who work in the nail salon industry, Governor Cuomo acted swiftly and decisively to put an end to that abuse. Now, with the announcement of this new task force, he’s acting preemptively to protect workers in other industries and rooting out problems before more damage can be done. The Governor’s leadership has once again placed New York at the forefront as an example for the rest of the nation to follow and we commend the Governor, the state legislature, and all the tireless advocates for taking this step to protect women and workers in New York.”

Minkwon Executive Director Grace Shim said: “With the successful passage of this bill, Governor Cuomo has shown that he is committed to protecting New York’s workers and working with many immigrant small business owners - so many of whom have come here to build a better life for themselves and their loved ones. We commend Governor Cuomo for his efforts to improve the industry throughout this state. We look forward to working closely with the Governor's new task force to build a better New York State for all.”

Make the Road Co-Executive Director Javier Valdes said: “Every worker should be treated with respect and dignity – which is why Governor Cuomo’s new task force is so important. By investigating cases of worker abuse and exploitation, the state can better crack down on businesses that take advantage of their employees. This will lead to a safer and better work environment, just as the new laws that the Governor signed today will do for nail salon workers, and we are proud to stand with the Governor in defending New York’s workers.”

Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation
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.

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
Home Health Care
Car Washes
Janitorial Services
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. Committee members include:

Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU
Esta Bigler, Cornell University ILR School
Steve Choi, New York Immigration Coalition
Anne Erickson, Empire Justice Center
Hector Figueroa, 32BJ
George Gresham, 1199
Gary La Barbera, Trades
Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union
Dean Norton, Farm Bureau
Lewis O. Papenfuse, Worker Justice Center
Ted Potrikus, Retail Council of New York
Javier Valdes and Deborah Axe, Make the Road New York
Peter Ward, HTC
Danny Wegman, Wegmans
Kathy Wylde, NYC Partnership

Legislation to Protect Nail Salon Workers
Today, the Governor additionally signed legislation vital to protecting and supporting nail salon workers in New York. The bill was one of the Governor’s top priorities this legislative session and builds on the Governor's previous efforts to implement sweeping emergency regulations to protect the rights of workers in the industry.

The legislation signed today gives the Department of State the authority to shut down a business that is not following the law. The agency can cease unlicensed or uninsured activities and impose financial penalties at higher levels than was previously permitted in response to violations. In addition, unlicensed nail practitioners now have the ability to register with the state as trainees. This allows them to continue working while they study for their licensing exam, instead of solely relying on often prohibitively high-cost education program.

The legislation also implements new regulations for nail salons to address new bond and insurance requirements, improved personal protective equipment and required postings of any cease and desist notices that may be issued to a business found to be operating without a license and of a new Bill of Rights, available in 12 languages. Additionally, regulations are to be proposed with enhanced ventilation requirements and a review is under way of chemicals used in nails salons.