U.S. Workers Cheated

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A comprehensive new report reveals widespread abuse of low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project and co-author of the new report, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, discusses the findings. Plus, Amy Carroll, supervising attorney at Make the Road New York, addresses employment law questions raised by the new report.


Annette Bernhardt and Amy Carroll

Comments [21]


The more insidious wage theft is coming in the way of a new method of working called ACTIVITY BASE COMPENSATION. This is a piece work program for the office environment. Each item completed is assigned a price.
Employees’ wages are arbitrarily lowered and they are promised higher wages if they can keep up with the new quotas.
Older employees are losing wages because of diminished dexterity. Employees are concern because without a set wage they are unable to plan their budget and have problems applying for loans.

Sep. 03 2009 11:57 AM
Brook Lynn from NYC

There is an appalling abuse of the "intern" status in the work force. Many "interns" are college graduates with many years of experience and are essentially volunteers in the corporate world, working for transportation costs and lunches or no compensation at all. Their work does not provide any salary, benefits, social security or unemployment benefits. The concept of an "intern" was originally suppose to be a person who was in a learning situation at the work place and connected to an academic institution. In most cases now, the intern is simply a slave. Minimum wage should be mandatory in these situations.

Sep. 03 2009 11:42 AM
allison from brooklyn

I'd like to hear a discussion on the topic of employers who get out of paying payroll taxes by illegally claiming their employees as "independent contractors." this practice saves them a lot of money but costs the employees a lot in extra taxes (around 7% more). it has happened to me in 2 long-term permanent jobs, and i threatened to quit the second job until the employer incorporated the company and paid me as a real w-2 employee and paid his share.

Sep. 03 2009 11:42 AM
GrrlScientist from

you don't have to work for a restaurant to get abused by your employer (although i have worked for restaurants for many years).

as an adjunct professor in NYC, i am paid abysmally low wages (that end up being below minimum wage), and i am expected to work when i am ill (because if i don't work, i don't get paid), and i cannot live on adjunct wages, despite the fact that i live in a rent-stabilized apartment and rely on food banks to eat.

pathetic! and to realize that people need a PhD to be treated with such disrespect makes me understand how the infrastructure of this city (and this nation) is rotting away -- why bother trying to "improve oneself" if this is what we get to look forward to?

Sep. 03 2009 11:35 AM
Gregory from The Bronx

Sorry, after having heard the chef's on-air comments I had to add an addendum to my previous comment. I don't deny that restaurants are the Wild West of the labor scene. I have seen and also suffered from the inequities of the industry. It used to be most restaurants were privately owned and run, but now most all of them have become part of corporate chains where "by-the-book" is more the norm. As far as calling out sick is concerned, the young chef should know better than anyone how highly dependent a restaurant is on that day's roster fully showing up, and that a single chink can severely harm the day's operation. To the young lady on the subject of gutting it out I recommend Michael Ruhlman's book, "The Making of a Chef."

Sep. 03 2009 11:32 AM
john from office

What would you do with the mom and pop operations that may not be able to pay high wages and may employ family members below set wages?

Sep. 03 2009 11:31 AM
Romanie Baines from Manhatan

Another aspect of this I've noticed lately, the great increase of so called unpaid "Intern" jobs that are advertised for workers.

Sep. 03 2009 11:29 AM
Michelle from Manhattan

There are also situations where employees (who are paid several dollars above minimum wage) can hold reporting the employer to the Dept. of Labor over the employer's head, and they live in fear of being reported/audited as well. Employees can use this against employers for raises, etc. Often illegal employees are exploited and under-paid, but there are situations in the reverse as well.

Sep. 03 2009 11:28 AM

"out of legal status"?

the guy himself said he was "completely illegal."

don't soft sell it.

Sep. 03 2009 11:28 AM
maw from ny,ny

A friend of mine was just laid off from a low-wage job. He's been receiving unemployment for the past couple months & his employer just offered him his job back. Because the job is so low-paying, my friend doesn't want to take the job without exploring better-paying options. His former employer threatened to call the unemployment office to report the offer if he didn't take the job again... is this legal? Can the low-paying employer trap my friend that way?

Sep. 03 2009 11:26 AM
Rich from Staten Island

Has anyone audited and investigated these private security firms who staff the Nursing Homes and even the Staten Island Ferry Terminals. Workers when initially hired are getting shortchanged.

Sep. 03 2009 11:23 AM
Mark from Qns.

One of the callers brings up an important point. Too many people, especially lower wage workers, have to go to work when they are sick because they need the $$$. In the US we have this idea that we must be at work as much as possible, even if we are sick. It would be great if lower wage workers could be guaranteed a certain number of sick days.

Sep. 03 2009 11:23 AM
James from New York

restaurants like to hire Illigal immigrants.

Cause they dont complaiin

If they follow all the rules you would not be able to get your Chinese food for $5.

Sep. 03 2009 11:22 AM

Please discuss the economics of why its hard to prosecute these guys. (Why it doesn't pay for private attnys to work on these cases) And why doesn't the NYS DOL doesn't hire more attnys to do this? Why the SOL at DOL doesn't help more workers?

Sep. 03 2009 11:21 AM
Aaron from Harlem

Do the employers know about the law as it relates to employing just for tips? I live in Harlem and the supermarket next to my house employs two Hispanics as baggers. I ask the workers if they were paid a wage. They said no.. They simply collect tips. I asked the manager about that, and asked if he knew the law. He claimed that he was unfamiliar with the law.

Sep. 03 2009 11:18 AM
Gregory from The Bronx

C'mon. This is New York, New Yorkers are a pretty sophisticated lot, particularly this listening audience. Anyone who claims not to know what is really going on is really someone who would like to pretend not to know what is going on. All they really care about is getting their service provided, period.

Sep. 03 2009 11:17 AM
Chris from Midtown East

While not low wage workers, contract attorneys are usually forced to work without being paid overtime despite sometimes working 50-60 hrs per week. We don't receive benefits of any sort. Why are contract attorneys exempt from the requirement to be paid overtime?

Sep. 03 2009 11:16 AM
Zach from UWS

If someone is working in a low-wage job through pseudo-legal means (i.e. a foreign student), what kind of legal recourse is there for that person? A lot of worker-employer relationships are based on a principle of mutually assured destruction.

Sep. 03 2009 11:16 AM
ba from UWS

A friend worked 12-hour days all summer for the Circle Line, never receiving any overtime. The company claimed it doesn't have to pay overtime because it operates on the Hudson, not in NYC. !?!? Is that possible/legal?

Sep. 03 2009 11:16 AM
Sara from Bushwick

At our local grocery store in Williamsburg, they regularly have children who appear to be anywhere from 8-15 years old bagging groceries; and I'm pretty sure it's for tips only. I refuse to shop there because of this practice, abusing children and extorting sympathy tips out of shoppers.

Sep. 03 2009 11:14 AM
hannah from Hell's Kitchen

I waited tables at the TGIFridays on Broadway and 49th. When I came down with the flu and called in sick, they said the only way I could come back was if I brought a note from my doctor saying I was really sick. For me, the cost of going to a doctor for a note was prohibitive enough to force me to go into work even though I was sick. I really didn't want to spread my disease, but what else could I do???

Sep. 03 2009 11:11 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.