LatinoJustice PRLDEF Urges NYC Anti-Mob Agency to Stop Asking Questions about the Personal Lives of Hunts Point Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 20, 2013

CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

The city’s Business Integrity Commission is asking questions about the personal lives of hundreds of frightened workers in the Hunts Points market area, and those workers want the Commission to stop, according to a letter sent today by LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

The Business Integrity Commission, an obscure city agency that regulates the wholesale markets across the city, was created years ago to combat mob-influence businesses that controlled the loading and unloading in the Fulton Street Fish Market. The Commission has now extended its reach far beyond that mandate and requires wholesalers of every sort in markets across the city to get their employees – mostly low wage minority workers – to fill out an 11-page form that asks personal questions ranging from information about a worker’s current and former spouses, to condo units a worker may have rented for a vacation, to disputes a worker might have had with an employer decades ago. Yet there was never a finding by the City Council, when it authorized the creation of BIC, that organized crime had ever infiltrated any of these businesses.

“BIC needs to take a fresh look at this process and remove the unauthorized and inappropriate questions they currently ask,” said Foster Maer, Senior Litigation Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Workers with 15 years of experience at a wholesaler, feeling both overwhelmed and frightened by the scores of questions being asked, are simply refusing to fill out this questionnaire, and I can’t blame them. It’s probably easier to become a cop than get through this process, simply to keep a job they have had for decades.”

When the City Council expanded BIC’s authority to wholesale businesses in Hunt’s Point and elsewhere in the city in 2009, it never authorized BIC to dig into the past of employees in these markets as it had earlier for businesses involved in loading and unloading goods that had to be licensed by BIC. BIC was only authorized to create a registry of wholesalers and to require them to get their employees to obtain photo ID’s from BIC that they would have to wear during work hours for identification purposes. Criminal background checks were limited to employees of the businesses engaged in loading and unloading.

About four months ago, BIC required Down East Seafood, one of the state’s largest seafood importers, to register with the agency. The process involved the company paying $4,000 in fees and completing extensive forms about himself and his business, a $20 million company with 60 employees. About three weeks ago, BIC returned, with a new requirement: his employees would need to apply for photo IDs with BIC—at about $100 per employee— and complete an 11-page form in English requesting the social security numbers of past spouses among other queries. Several of his employees have resisted doing so.

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