In a major expansion of his efforts to protect employees of local businesses – particularly immigrants – Governor Cuomo announced late last week a new program that will intensely scrutinize the practices of fifteen industries throughout New York State.
Noting the $4 million in back wages that his Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation has obtained for workers over the past year, the governor said it would now be investigating such industries as retail, car washes, cleaning, farming, trucking, airports, landscaping, construction and home health care.
Cuomo issued an executive order to establish a permanent task force that will seek to uncover wage theft, health and safety hazards and other workplace issues that he said disproportionately affect immigrants.
"We've always been aware that as the immigrants come, they tend to take the entry-level jobs and they tend to be subject to abuse," Cuomo stated, according to Crains New York.
Noting that a strong focus will be placed on the dry-cleaning industry, the governor said the task force will put the state "on the path" to ban the carcinogenic chemical perc, which is regularly used in the process of dry cleaning.
According to business leader Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City – a member of the task force's advisory committee – the group previously worked in concert with employers to resolve the commonly found problems without undue adversity, and she voiced support for its newly expanded mission.
"By bringing employers, advocates, and union leaders together to work through these issues,” Wylde stated, “we avoid contentious situations and we ensure that all parties are treated fairly." The Partnership for NYC represents the city's largest employers.
A representative for the governor explained that the task force will work with businesses to educate them on how to comply with state labor laws.
Cuomo’s efforts have drawn the wrath of some nail-salon owners and their supporters, notably Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, who represents a heavily Asian district in Flushing, Queens. Despite Kim’s legal challenge to the crackdown, which he felt unfairly targeted one type of business, the original task force forged ahead, sending out inspectors to conduct sweeps that included interviewing workers and demanding to examine businesses' books. The task force issued numerous violations – especially for improper record-keeping – and it mandated nail salons to obtain surety bonds so that back wages could be recovered.
"I hope that with the dry cleaners and other immigrant-owned businesses that he is committed to taking the educational approach,” Kim said in reference to Governor Cuomo, “and I feel optimistic as long as they work with the third-party nonprofit groups who have access to these communities. Just taking a stick-only approach is not going to have a positive outcome."