Governor Cuomo’s worker protection efforts have helped transform the economic and social justice landscape in New York State. These efforts have shared an overarching mission of protecting workers in the industries where they are most likely to face exploitation yet do not come forward for fear of retaliation. Many of these workers are immigrants and frequent victims of wage theft. They are often subjected to unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, inconsistent and unpredictable work hours, and illegal deductions from pay for supplies, training, and uniforms. They tend to work off the books, have hazardous jobs, and are often geographically isolated. In some instances, they are also victims of human trafficking.
In July 2015, Governor Cuomo 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 groundbreaking initiative to protect workers in the nail salon industry, the Exploited Worker Task Force was charged with identifying and combatting illegal practices in numerous other industries across the state.
In July 2016, to mark its one-year anniversary, the Governor signed Executive Order 159 establishing a permanent, statewide task force on worker exploitation and misclassification, the Joint Task Force on Worker Exploitation and Employee Misclassification (Joint Task Force). The Order broadened and entrenched the mandates of the Exploited Worker Task Force, Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification and the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force into a robust and unified bedrock of state government for generations to come.
To date, the Joint Task Force has launched nearly 16,000 wage theft and misclassification cases across more than a dozen industries impacting nearly 150,000 workers. Over the past four years, the Department of Labor, a leading member of the Joint Task Force, recovered nearly $150 million in lost wages which it returned to 125,000 workers victimized by wage theft. The Task Force has directed businesses to pay nearly $9.2 million in back wages and nearly $3 million in damages.
The Task Force’s Anti-Retaliation Unit has opened more than 550 retaliation cases, assisted more than 600 workers, and assessed more than $1.2 million in damages and penalties against employers who have retaliated against workers seeking to file claims. Furthermore, the Task Force resolved over 3,500 cases through its Mediation Unit and other administrative mechanisms.
The Task Force’s multilingual hotline, which provides non-standard business hours and boasts the capacity to receive questions and complaints, and also make referrals to Task Force agencies, has handled more than 12,000 calls to date.
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 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 2015 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, Partnership for NYC
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, State Police, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and Division of Human Rights. 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.
Department of Health
DOH ensures that high quality health services are available to all New Yorkers. The Department is also the principal State agency that administers the Medicaid Program, New York's Health Exchange (New York State of Health), and other public health programs. The Department operates health care facilities including Helen Hayes Hospital, four veteran’s nursing homes, and the Wadsworth Laboratories. In addition, DOH conducts oversight of health professionals and all other health care facilities to ensure that high quality, cost effective, health care alternatives are provided throughout the State.
Department of Labor
DOL administers New York’s Unemployment Insurance, Workforce Development Employment and Training, and Worker Protection programs. DOL also enforces safety and health regulations in the public sector, State labor laws and Federal statutes related to working conditions, wages and hours, and laws related to public works. The Department is a primary advocate for job creation and economic growth through workforce development, and serves as the State’s principal source for labor market information, offering a variety of services designed to help businesses find workers and people find jobs.
Department of State
The Department’s mission encompasses a broad range of activities that coordinate programs with, and provide services to, local governments, individuals and businesses. The Department supports public safety through the administration of building and energy code programs; administers programs for community development and local government service activities; and supports businesses through various licensing and registration activities.
Department of Agriculture and Markets
The Department of Agriculture and Markets is charged with fostering a competitive and safe New York food and agricultural industry for the benefit of producers and consumers. The Department encourages the growth and economic health of the State’s agricultural and food industry and conducts various inspections and testing programs to enforce laws on food safety, animal and plant health, and accuracy of labeling. The Department also acts to preserve agricultural resources and improve soil and water quality, and operates the annual State Fair near Syracuse.
Department of Tax and Finance
DTF collects tax revenue and provides associated services in support of certain New York State government operations. In fulfilling its responsibilities, the Department collects and accounts for $67 billion in State taxes and about $34 billion in local taxes; administers 37 State and 10 local taxes, including New York City and City of Yonkers income taxes, as well as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax; and processes about 41 million returns, registrations, and associated documents. The Department also manages the State Treasury, which provides investment and cash management services to various State agencies and public benefit corporations, and acts on the Tax Commissioner's behalf as joint custodian of the State's General Checking Account.
Division of Criminal Justice
DCJS is a multi-function criminal justice agency with extensive responsibilities including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; acting as the State's repository of criminal history records; administration of Federal and State funds that support local criminal justice programs; and administration of the State's Sex Offender Registry and DNA Databank. The Division also measures progress regarding the goal of crime reduction, and tracks the effectiveness of both agency and system-wide criminal justice strategies designed to enhance public safety.
Division of Human Rights
DHR affords every citizen “an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.” The State Human Rights law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit, places of public accommodations, and non-sectarian educational institutions, based on age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other specified classes.
Office of Children and Family Service
OCFS serves New York's public by promoting the safety, permanency and well-being of our children, families and communities. OCFS achieves results by setting and enforcing policies, building partnerships, and funding and providing quality services.
Office of Faith Based Services
The purpose of the Office is to assist and leverage community and faith-based organizations in the delivery of education, health, workforce training, food programs and social services to communities, particularly those most in need.
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
OTDA, working in close collaboration with OCFS and other agencies, helps low-income households achieve economic self-sufficiency through work, job training and the provision of supportive services that help avert dependency on public assistance. OTDA also provides economic assistance to aged and disabled persons who are unable to work.
New York State Police
The primary mission is to protect the citizens of the State, prevent and detect crime and other violations of law and promote highway safety. The Division’s many responsibilities include patrolling roads and highways outside major urban areas, providing specialty and investigative police services, conducting sophisticated investigations of criminal activities such as drug trafficking and child endangerment, and working cooperatively with various levels of law enforcement throughout the State.
Workers' Compensation Board
The Board protects the rights of employees and employers, by ensuring the proper delivery of benefits to those eligible due to being injured or becoming ill while on the job, and by promoting compliance with the law. To protect the well-being of New York’s labor force, most private and public sector employers in New York are required to carry workers’ compensation and disability benefits insurance for their employees or demonstrate their ability to self-insure. The Board reviews claims for workers’ compensation payments and assists in resolving disputed claims.
On July 16, 2015, Governor Cuomo 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 signed legislation 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.
Included in the Governor's previous efforts include administrative changes to expand: availability of licensing exams through translations into in additional languages; access to free English classes; and availability of free training materials through the Department of State’s website.
September 16, 2015: Governor Cuomo Announces $3.3 Million in Back Wages, Damages and Settlements for 800 Car Wash, Restaurant, Supermarket and Farm Workers
August 10, 2015: Governor Cuomo Announces Wage Bond Requirements for Nail Salon Owners and Availability of New Nail Specialty Trainee Registration for Workers
July 16, 2015: Governor Cuomo Announces Statewide Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation and Abuse Throughout New York State
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.”
Protecting Worker's Health & Safety. Ensuring Employer Compliance.
Up to $5 million is now available to support meaningful and comprehensive efforts undertaken by community-based organizations, direct service providers, occupational health and safety clinics, and other not-for-profit entities to provide training, education, and assistance in the following general areas for workers, advocates, and businesses:
- Prevention measures against workplace accidents, injuries, illnesses, harassment, and other physical and psychological workplace health and safety concerns;
- Best practices in occupational safety and health intended to protect and enhance workplace safety;
- Workers’ rights to seek medical attention and monetary compensation for injuries suffered at the workplace (i.e. through WCB claims); and
- Business compliance with occupational safety and health regulations and best practices in partnership with the Department of Labor's On Site Consultation program.
The winning bidders will work in tandem with the Governor’s Joint Task Force on Worker Exploitation and Employee Misclassification to help protect workers health and safety and ensure employer compliance.
- RFA Release Date - Monday, September 12, 2016
- Deadline Date for Questions – Ongoing, no later than January 16, 2017.
- Deadline Date for Responses to Questions – Ongoing, no later than January 23, 2017.
- Application/Proposal Due Date – Ongoing, no later than 4:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time on January 31, 2017.
- Date of Notification of Award – Ongoing as received.
- Latest Possible Contract End Date – March 31, 2017.
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