ago 39-year-old Adela Valdez began a job hunt that spanned from Central Mexico
needing to send home money to support her 4 children,
took a job making craft lamps in
eight months ago
walked away empty handed.
To find a
new job, this Mexican mom turned to an employment referral service.She paid an agency on
job lead that turned into a dead end.
back again to the employment agency and explained to them what happened, says Julissa Bisono, a workers advocate with the
immigration non-profit, Make the Road NY.[She] asked for her refund and they told her that the guy who took her
money is no longer there.When
days later, the agency was no longer there.
a disheartened Spanish dialect,
said, I felt really depressed because those 100 dollars were the last 100
dollars that I had, and I wasnt going to be able to recover."
are hundreds of other immigrant job seekers.Since 2007, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has closed
50 employment referral agencies located in the
have been swindled, but Bisono says the referral services in her
neighborhood are having wild success preying on undocumented Latin
Americans. Were seeing even more
situations now where people are told to pay up-front and well pick you up at a
certain corner or avenue or street.Then
the person shows up, sometimes as early as 6 in the morning waiting to get
picked up and they never do.So this is
job seekers are particularly vulnerable because they have little access to language
skills and are often unaware of their rights.The agencies routinely collect up-front fees, but deny refunds if job
leads dont pan out.Article 11 of
Business Law specifically bars employment agencies from withholding refunds.
to Section 185:
such deposit or advance fee shall be returned immediately upon demand
therefore, if at the time of the demand such employment has not been obtained.
To see if
employment agencies are following the law, PIX News gave $120 to Adela
Valdez.On a sunny April day, she
scouted 5 storefronts on
except one offered to take the cash up-front in exchange for a job
walked into the Patricia Agencia de Empleos, agents eagerly told her about a
laundry folding job at a
laundromat.The job, they said, paid $8
per hour.There would be no refund if
the interview didnt pan out, though.
$10 bills, and off she was to what was supposed to be a sure bet.She has plenty of experience in the laundry
business.Soon after she arrived to the
worked at two cleaners.In one case she
washed, dried, and folded 460 pounds of clothes per day.
clothes, walked away to attend to a customer, then came back and informed the
job seeker she didnt need her services.When confronted with a PIX News camera, Luis Ruiz, owner of Patricia Agencia
de Empleos, said he runs a legitimate business and never promises jobs only
job interviews.I have a good
reputation and this is the first time you guys have come here.The first time.
Assemblyman Jose Peralta believes businesses like Ruizs are the spirit of the
law, if not the letter.If youre
sending them to places that dont exist or places where people arent looking
to hire than youre violating that trust.
proposed a bill to raise fines against employment referral services that charge
up-front fees.Currently the agencies
face maximum $100 fines.The penalty is
very low.Its the cost of doing
business, says Peralta.Im charging
you $150 or $200 Im making money per violation.So I can strip you of all the rights you
deserve, but Im making money.Peraltas bill would raise the fines to $500 and create a job seekers
bill of rights.
Back at the
Patricia Agencia de Empleos, owner Luis Ruiz ultimately decided to return Adela
Valdezs $120 payment, though his agents initially told her there would be no
refunds.It was of little comfort
though.She still has no job.As she concluded her interview, her reddened
eyes welled up with tears.
tuition money home to put her 17-year-old through college.Shes dejected, but determined to find work.
If I dont
find a job soon, Im going to start picking up cans in the street, she
says.There are good jobs out there,
but there has to be a stop to bad people.