Study of low income workers in New York City: violations of worker protections

Unregulated Work in New York City was published in 2007 by the Brennan Center At New Yorl University Law School, principal author Annette Bernhardt. This study analyzes numerous ways by which worker protections are being compromised by employers. . The study was “product of three and a half years of intensive research conducted in New York City between 2003 and 2006.”
Of the 326 persons interviewed, the distribution of respondents was: 116 workers; 84 employers; 10 staff members of governmental regulatory agencies; 19 staff members of labor unions; 22 staff members of policy advocacy organizations; and 75 staff members of other non-profit organizations, including legal services providers, social services providers, and community-based organizations.
Groceries and supermarkets, Retail, Restaurants, Building maintenance & security,
Publicly-subsidized child care, Domestic work, Home health care, Residential construction, Food and apparel manufacturing, Laundry and dry cleaning, Taxis and dollar vans, Auto repair, garages and car washes and Personal services such as nail and beauty salons were covered.
Annette Bernhardt, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and co-directs its Economic Justice Project. She coordinates the Center’s policy analysis and research for national and local campaigns around living wage jobs, workers’ rights, and accountable development. Her books include Low-Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace as well as Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market, which was awarded Princeton University’s Lester Prize for the best new work in labor economics in 2002.
Here is a summary of the study’s scope:
Our fieldwork identified eight broad categories of workplace violations being committed by some employers in New York City:
• Wage and hour violations: We documented employers paying less than the minimum wage, failing to pay overtime, not paying at all, forcing employees to work off the clock, not giving breaks, stealing workers’ tips, and violating prevailing wage laws on public construction projects.
• Health and safety violations: We documented employers failing to provide guards on machinery, allowing extreme temperatures and improper ventilation, requiring employees to work on unsafe scaffolding, exposing them to chemical and airborne toxins, and failing to provide goggles, masks, and other protective equipment.
• Workers’ compensation violations: We documented employers failing to carry workers’ comppensation insurance required by law, and preventing injured workers from filing workers’ compensation claims
• Retaliation and violations of the right to organize: We documented employers firing or punishing workers who sought to improve working conditions, as well as making pre-emptive threats to report workers to immigration authorities.
• Independent contractor misclassification: We documented employers misclassifying their workers as independent contractors in order to evade their legal obligation under employment and labor laws.
• Employer tax violations: We documented employers either fully or partially failing to pay required payroll taxes on cash wages.
• Discrimination: In our research, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, country of
origin and criminal history manifested itself in firing, hiring, promotion, and in the explicit sorting of workers into stereotyped occupations.
Trafficking and forced labor: While not the focus of our research, we documented instances of workers being trafficked and being prevented from leaving their jobs through passport seizure, debt bondage, threats, physical force, or captivity.

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