A rare bolt of good news came out of Albany on January 26, when the New York Labor Department announced a new program that partners with labor and community groups to combat workplace violations like wage nonpayment, tip stealing and failure to pay overtime.
New York Wage Watch
will train grassroots organizations to monitor working conditions in their communities and refer violations to the Division of Labor Standards.
, a labor scholar at Rutgers University and a former organizer, points out that most state-level enforcement is entirely complaint-driven–and since vulnerable workers risk losing their jobs or exposing their immigration status to defy abusive supervisors, most labor law violations go unreported. Now participating groups will “basically be walking a beat,” says Fine. Other states have experimented with similar partnerships, but according to Fine, “no other state is doing anything this proactive.”
A pilot program targeting low-wage industries where abuses are rampant will launch in New York City and Long Island before expanding statewide. The program will “increase labor law compliance by giving regular people a formal role in creating lawful workplaces,” said Labor Department commissioner
M. Patricia Smith
. Among the groups enlisted so far are immigrant worker centers like the
Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association
El Centro del Immigrante
, as well as unions like the
United Food and Commercial Workers
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
. “New York Wage Watch is labor law enforcement at the purest, most grassroots level,” enthused RWDSU president
. “This program will allow unions, community groups and churches to engage in the fight against the exploitation of workers in our neighborhoods.” MAX FRASER
LEDBETTER’S NEXT ACT:
Lawmakers are getting credit for passing the
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
, but another bill to fight wage discrimination is coming up short in the Senate. Signed into law by President Obama on January 29, the Ledbetter Act–named after
, who lost a Supreme Court case against
–gives victims of wage discrimination more time to file suit. But Ledbetter and women’s groups stress that the law will have minimal impact without the
Paycheck Fairness Act
, which allows victims of wage discrimination to collect information about employees’ salaries without fear of retaliation.
“Giving women the Ledbetter Act without Paycheck Fairness is like giving them the nail without the hammer,” Ledbetter said at a recent conference sponsored by the