State to crack down on dry cleaners and other businesses suspected of exploiting workers


From Crain's New York:

by Rosa Goldensohn

The dry cleaning industry will get the Cuomo administration's nail-salon treatment. 

It's no pedicure. 

Touting $4 million in back wages that his Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation has secured for workers over the past year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced increased scrutiny for 15 industries, including retail, car washes, cleaning, farming, trucking, airports, landscaping, construction and home health care.

Using an executive order, Cuomo established a permanent task force to look at wage theft, health and safety hazards and other workplace issues that he said disproportionately affect immigrants.

"We've always been aware that as the immigrants come, they tend to take the entry-level jobs and they tend to be subject to abuse," Cuomo said at a press conference at the Javits Center Wednesday.

He told a story of how his grandfather, a teenage immigrant from Italy who worked as a ditch-digger, was forced to ride in the back of a dump truck in frigid weather while his employer drove beside an empty seat.

"My grandfather would say, 'He treated me worse than a dog' and would cry," Cuomo said. "He cried for the indignity of how a human being can treat another human being."

The dry-cleaning industry, the perils of which Crain's chronicled in May, will be of particular focus, the governor said. The task force will put the state "on the path" to ban the carcinogenic chemical perc, commonly used in dry cleaning, his office said.

Business leader Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, who sits on the task force's advisory committee, said the group worked with employers to resolve problems without undue adversity, and expressed support for its new incarnation.

"By bringing employers, advocates, and union leaders together to work through these issues, we avoid contentious situations and we ensure that all parties are treated fairly," said Wylde, whose organization represents the city's largest employers.

The task force will work with businesses to educate them on complying with state labor laws, a representative for the governor said.

The governor's efforts have been harshly criticized by some nail-salon owners and their supporters, notably Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who represents a heavily Asian district in Flushing, Queens. Kim helped bring a legal challenge to curtail the crackdown, saying it singled out one type of business based on a few bad actors.

But Cuomo's crackdown continued, with inspectors conducting sweeps that included interviewing workers and demanding businesses' books. Numerous violations were issued for failure to maintain proper records and various other infractions, and nail salons were required to obtain surety bonds to ensure back wages could be recovered.

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