En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

With one vote, council tightens its grip on businesses

Business leaders slammed the City Council Wednesday for passing two bills that they argue will make it more difficult for employers to create jobs and operate in New York.

One bill would heighten regulations on car washes, while the other would prevent business owners from initially inquiring about a potential employee’s criminal history.

The Fair Chance Act—also known as the “Ban the Box” bill in reference to check boxes on job applications asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime—would ban employers from digging up criminal histories until the end of the application process and require employers who rejected applicants with criminal histories to explain why in writing. Earlier this year, the council approved legislation that would ban employers from checking the credit score of potential hires.

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said the new bill could result in fewer job opportunities.

“This bill is an example of ideology trumping practicality,” Ms. Wylde said in a statement. “New York state already has a strong anti-discrimination law on the books to protect ex-offenders from unfair discrimination in the job market. A bill like this discourages employers and ends up resulting in fewer, not more, job opportunities for the people the City Council wants to help.”

But supporters, including Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman, said the bill will help ensure that ex-convicts, who largely come from minority communities, are not unlawfully shut out of the job market.

“The legislation would not hurt employers,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn.

Car-wash owners fretted over the council’s approval of a bill that will demand up to a $150,000 surety bond per car-wash location, require their owners to be licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs and compel them to submit to background checks—an obligation generally restricted to industries with mob ties or posing a security threat. Car washes whose workers are unionized would only have to post a $30,000 bond. The bond is to ensure that money is available to compensate workers in the event of wage theft.

A previous version of the bill demanded bonds as high as $300,000, but Steve Rotlevi, car-wash entrepreneur and president of the Association of Car Wash Owners, said the measure still amounts to “legislative extortion.” He claimed the council rejected his group’s offer of $50,000 bonds for nonunion car washes and zero on unionized ones. And, as Ms. Wylde commented on the Ban the Box legislation, he predicted higher prices and fewer jobs as a result of the bill.

“This is going to be a disaster,” Mr. Rotlevi said. “They don’t listen to you. They just want to do whatever they want.”

But union leaders, including Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Applebaum, says labor abuse and wage theft are a growing problem in the industry.

“Rampant wage theft and employee mistreatment, in the car wash industry, demand the type of reform provided by this legislation,” Mr. Applebaum said. “The advocacy of car wash workers for their rights and dignity continues to inspire low wage workers throughout New York City.”

The legislation was primarily written by Make the Road New York, a powerful nonprofit that works with RWDSU to organize the car-wash industry. As Crain’s has reported, the nonprofit gets substantial taxpayer funds that indirectly support its organizing efforts. RWDSU has organized nine car washes in the city since its campaign began two years ago.

“Today’s vote is historic–our city is standing up and saying it will no longer allow wage-thieving employers to operate with impunity in our midst,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “Licensing businesses is a basic city power, here being used in a creative, but common-sense way. And a substantial bond will for the first time in the history of this horrific, abusive industry, secure workers’ wages against theft.”

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio would not say whether either bill will be signed into law, but noted the mayor’s “historic attachment” to the concerns of car-wash workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.

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