Justice for Job Seekers Campaign Gets Boost from New York Attorney General Agreements with Five Predatory Employment Agencies

Contact: Jessica Garcia (NICE), (718) 205-8796, @J4JS_NY, jessica@nynice.org
John Garcia (LatinoJustice PRLDEF), (212) 739-7513, jgarcia@latinojustice.org Alex Gomez (La Fuente), (201) 286-2180, alexgomez@lafuenteinc.org

July 11, 2014

(New York, NY) – The Justice for Job Seekers Campaign received a boost this week when New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has reached an agreement with five New York City employment agencies to end predatory practices targeting vulnerable job seekers. The campaign, being conducted by a coalition of New York community organizations, is calling on the state to crack down on predatory employment agencies and increase protections for job seekers through legislation introduced in the New York State legislature this year by Assemblyman Francisco Moya and Senator Diane Savino (A. 09742/S. 07742).

Every day, predatory employment agencies take advantage of our most vulnerable population, unemployed low-wage and immigrant workers desperate for work. Agencies routinely charge fees without providing a service, demand exorbitant fees for job placements, and refer workers to jobs that pay below the minimum wage.

New York’s current employment agency laws discriminate against low-wage workers and even enable fraud. Agencies can charge low-wage workers a fee before placing them in a job while other types of workers pay a fee only after placement. This so-called “advance fee” incentivizes agencies to give workers the run-around and send them to employers that do not exist or are not hiring.

Additionally, New York’s weak penalties, which have not been updated since the 1970s, fail to protect job seekers. While New York sets its maximum fine per violation at $500, states like New Jersey, Illinois, Nevada, and Hawaii set their maximum fine per violation between $1,000 and $5,000. New York also deprives job seekers of the ability to seek justice through the courts. Job seekers must depend on city and state agencies that are often under-resourced to enforce the law.

“New York’s most economically distressed workers are spending thousands of dollars to find jobs through employment agencies only to be scammed and exploited by those agencies. The state must continue to crack down on predatory agencies and adopt stronger protections for job seekers,” said Laura Huizar, Equal Justice Works Fellow at LatinoJustice PRLDEF who oversees the Employment Agency Abuse Project.

“We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking decisive action and working to ensure that job seekers are protected from unscrupulous employment agencies. At NICE, we have spent years documenting these abuses and their systemic nature, which led us to launch the Justice for Job Seekers Campaign and work with our members to educate the community at-large about their consumer rights. The NYS legislature needs to address this injustice by eliminating the practice of charging advance fees and giving enforcement agencies the teeth to keep cracking down on bad actors,” said Valeria Treves, Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment.

“I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for cracking down on predatory employment agencies. The agreement he reached with five New York City employment agencies marks a breakthrough in our ongoing efforts to end predatory employment practices. For too long, employment agencies have been able to take advantage of low-wage workers and recent immigrants who are just trying to earn an honest living. I was proud to sponsor legislation this year that sought to crack down on labor sharks. That legislation, which passed the Assembly, would have given teeth to our employment laws by empowering the Attorney General to enforce the law. The Attorney General’s actions have demonstrated that he is a true partner in this effort. I look forward to continuing to work with him in our efforts to rid New York of the scourge of predatory employment agencies.” Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya (D-Jackson Heights).

We are thankful for immigrant workers' courage in bringing this issue to light and commend the AG's office in acting to prosecute and punish fraudulent employment agencies. Further, we would like to urge our New York State elected officials to move to protect NY workers by supporting the Justice for Job Seekers Bill and thus changing the laws that allow for these abuses to happen," said Stephanie Mulcock, Executive Director, Cidadao Global.

“Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s actions are commendable, but today’s news further highlights the need for stronger laws to address the issue of predatory employment agencies. New York as a state must continue show a strong commitment towards protecting its most vulnerable by passing the Justice for Job Seekers Bill this upcoming session” said La Fuente Member Orfilia Hernandez.

“Adhikaar is a coalition partner representing Nepali speaking and Tibetan community in Queens. Our members are domestic workers, nail salon workers, restaurant workers helping to run New York City. Our communities also face similar stories of exploitation and misinformation at the hands of employment agencies. Employment agencies are often the first place our members go to when they come to this country, in the hopes of getting a well-paying job. But overwhelmingly employment agencies take advantage of their desperation, of their inability to speak the language and lack of knowledge of prevailing labor laws. Our members have reported employment agencies creating false definitions of wage and hour laws--overtime pay eligibility only after 50 hours per week and stating lower minimum wage rates to name a couple. This creates a vicious cycle of low wage leading to wage theft and abusive work conditions affecting their quality of life as well as mental health, anxiety, stress, depression trauma to name a few. We need to put an end to these unjust practices. This is the time to stop cheating some of the city’s most vulnerable workers and stop those who build their power on the backs of poor communities. It is time for our government to hold accountable these agencies and anyone who exploits any workers.” Statement from Adhikaar, Woodside, Queens, NY.

“We applaud the work of New York’s Attorney General to proactively negotiate a “best practices” agreement with five New York employment agencies. The action jumpstarts the Justice for Job Seekers campaign for new legislation to end employment agency discrimination among low-wage immigrant workers. Pay-to-work and other schemes by employment agencies make victims of honest job seekers while agencies take the money and run.” Statement from Don Bosco Workers, Inc., Port Chester, NY.

“Temporary workers are regularly exposed to hazardous working conditions, and regularly are taken advantage of on the job,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of NYCOSH. “We applaud the Attorney General for cracking down on predatory employment agencies, and recognize that this reflects a need for greater protections of temporary workers.” ###

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