The State Department of Labor announced a new
proactive approach to enforcing labor laws, and they are starting on the
Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith visited Bushwick
last Wednesday to outline the new enforcement effort, which will work with
advocacy and community groups to gather information for wage and hour
"This new initiative is about targeting
industries that do not play by the rules, and partnering with local groups to
get the vital message out that we will protect all workers," said Smith.
One of those advocacy groups is Make the Road by Walking,
which for years has been highlighting the plight of workers in Bushwick
businesses – from wages below the state minimum to failure to adequately
compensate for overtime.
Working on information from Make the Road, as well
as from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Labor
investigators walked a mile-long strip along Knickerbocker Avenue. They inspected a
total of 26 businesses during both daytime and evening. What they found was not
In some cases, workers were paid as little as $5
per hour, while several stores paid a weekly salary of between $300 and $400
for 60 to 72 hours worth of work per week. The state minimum wage is $7.15 per
hour, and any employee who works beyond 40 hour per week is entitled to 1 1/2
times their regular wage.
Some of the more egregious offenders included:
Auto Spa Corp. and Roger Street Inc. failed to pay minimum wage and
overtime and keep records of hours worked. The businesses owe $97,979.90
and $1,419.90 in minimum wage and overtime wages to nine employees.
Girl failed to pay minimum wage and overtime and keep adequate records;
the business owes $40,679.05.
Top, Marco, Galaxy Beauty Supply, So Sweet, and Casa Moda Shoes, among
others, were issued violations for failure to maintain required payroll
"We are sending a message to workers that you
have rights in the workplace and that you are not alone," said Andrew Friedman of Make the Road.
"Innovative collaborations between community groups and the Department of
Labor are needed to make labor laws mean something again to retail workers
along Knickerbocker Avenue
and around the city."
In addition to stores in Bushwick, the Department
of Labor also inspected nearly 80 other retail establishments statewide, from Buffalo to Long Island.
The result of those investigations are not yet available, but they are expected
to include not only wage violations, but also violations of child labor laws.