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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Wage Watchers

businesses try to compete by being efficient and smart. Some do it the nasty
way. They undercut their competitors by hiring and exploiting low-wage workers.
Recent years have been especially good for this repellent bottom-feeding thanks
to weak and indifferent government enforcement of workers’ rights and a
darkening political climate against illegal immigrants — the backbone of the
cheap, disposable work force.


employers confidently cut corners, steal wages and ignore overtime and
workplace-safety laws because they know that governments at all levels are
unable or unwilling to investigate and workers are too frightened to complain.
But here is a heartening sign of change: New York State
has begun a new effort to expose and prosecute abusive employers by enlisting
the people who know them best: their immigrant employees.


weekend, the State Labor Department began a
*pilot partnership
with six nonprofit workers’ organizations
, whose members will be the government’s eyes and
ears in the abuse-prone immigrant workplace.

In New
York City and on Long Island, workers at day-labor corners, laundries,
restaurants, nail salons, supermarkets and department stores will be trained to
know and defend their rights and be given contacts in the Division of Labor
Standards to report violations.


All sides
of the immigration debate should be able to agree that this sort of program,
one of the first in the nation, is wise and overdue. For too long, at too many
levels of government, efforts to help immigrant workers have been thwarted by
the poison politics of immigration.


Blame the
tag “illegal” for clouding people’s understanding of immigrants’ rights.
Attacking illegal immigration through enforcement alone — piling hopelessness
onto fear — will never make 12 million people disappear. It will make them
silent partners in a system that forces honest Americans and businesses to
suffer with them.


You don’t
need a bleeding heart to apprehend the tragedy of worker exploitation. A cold
eye will do, calculating the cost to honest businesses and workers when bad
employers pocket the wages of fear and desperation.


*Make the Road New York is a partner in the New York
State Department of Labor’s pilot program. 
MRNY members will be reporting labor abuses directly to the
state government.