Looking to crack down on wage theft and other forms of exploitation, the City Council passed legislation on last week creating an Immigrant Workers Bill of Rights.
Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who authored the bill, said the measure was partly designed to protect asylum-seekers who have received their work papers and are now entering the city’s workforce.
“Labor laws exist on our books to protect all of our workers, including new arrivals and more established immigrants,” said Hanif in a statement. “This Bill of Rights will go a long way to ensuring they are followed.”
The bill, which the Council approved by a 43-8 vote, is set to become law, with a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams saying he did not intend to veto the legislation.
“For 22 months as mayor and years before, Mayor Adams has stood up for immigrant workers and all blue-collar New Yorkers – fighting for better pay and working conditions for the city’s 60,000 Deliveristas and for the rights for tens of thousands of new arrivals to work and provide for their families,” said the spokesperson, Amaris Cockfield, in a prepared statement.
The particulars of the Bill of Rights have not been determined, but the legislation charges several city agencies – the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), and the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) – to create the document by next March, and for employers to subsequently display it “in a conspicuous location in the workplace.”
The legislation also requires that workers across the city be informed of their rights through ads in the subway, online and in newspapers, along with LinkNYC kiosks. Workplaces in New York already are required to notify workers of a host of employment rights, including about wages and job hazards, but there is no comprehensive requirement aimed at immigrant workers.
Passage of the bill came on the same day that state Attorney General Letitia James announced $328 million in settlements with Lyft and Uber after her office investigated the rideshare companies and found that they had been “cheating drivers out of hundreds of millions of dollars” in pay, principally by charging drivers fees that should have come from riders.
The agreements included no admission of wrongdoing.
Additionally, a report in August by Documented and ProPublica found that more than $203 million in wages had been stolen from 127,000 workers in New York over a five-year period, from 2017 to 2001, while noting that the tally represents “almost certainly a significant undercount.”
Hanif said the legislation was informed by the experiences of people such as her father, who arrived in this country as an undocumented immigrant from Bangladesh.
“My father worked under the table as a restaurant worker and then as a construction laborer, unaware of his rights in the City and took whatever we could get at the end of the day,” she told Gothamist.
Sandy Nurse, a councilmember who represents the 37th City Council District in Brooklyn, said her office had received “a number of cases” where immigrant workers and business owners had either been exploited or defrauded. More than 110,000 asylum-seekers have come to New York City in an influx that began in spring 2022.
“We see workers being paid lower cash wages than was agreed upon and a lack of worker safety and protections provided,” she told Gothamist. “The worst part is that these individuals feel they have nowhere to turn because of their status. All workers have rights and it’s our duty as a city to guarantee them.”
At a council hearing on the bill in April, Darly Corniel, director of Education-Program Operations at the New York-based Consortium for Worker Education, said wage theft was a significant problem for immigrant workers.
Workers who “don’t have proper documentation” find it especially difficult to confront employers about the problem, said Corniel, noting many “simply stay in a job because they’re afraid that if they leave they’ll be retaliated against.”
Some workers, she said, fear that retaliation will come in the form of an employer or former employer reporting them to immigration authorities.
“Working overtime without getting paid is another form of wage theft,” said Corniel.
The arrival of so many asylum-seekers in the city since last year has amplified the issue of worker rights. Lawmakers and city officials have sought to ensure as many migrants as possible are in a position to legally work, which in turn allows them to move out of city-run shelters.
On Oct. 18, Hanif said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the city had helped file 5,600 asylum applications through its Office of Asylum Seeker Operations and that 300 applications had been submitted for recipients of Temporary Protected Status, including Venezuelans who have benefited from a Sept. 20 expansion of TPS announced by the Biden administration.
At the time, Hanif said another 600 appointments had been scheduled at OASO for TPS recipients, which gives recipients the legal right to work in the United States. An aide to Hanif said that pace was expected to increase significantly.