Laundry workers win case vs exploitation, wage theft

Workers are usually immigrants, women, and workers of color. Photo: Unsplash

The Office of the Attorney General has announced it has recovered $90,000 in stolen and unpaid wages for more than a dozen former employees of a commercial dry cleaner in Astoria, Queens known as  Enterprise Cleaner.

A press statement says Enterprise failed to pay its employees minimum wage, failed to pay the proper overtime rate, failed to pay employees for an additional hour when their workday exceeded 10 hours, and did not offer adequate overtime pay or paid sick leave.

Enterprise also consistently failed to provide new employees with written notice of the rate of pay, regular pay day, and other critical information upon hiring. In addition to paying back $90,000 in stolen wages to former employees of Enterprise, the owners will undergo thorough training regarding their obligations as an employer under New York Labor Law, update company policies and procedures, and submit compliance reports to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for a period of at least three years. 

“All workers should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, but the owners of Enterprise Cleaners took advantage of their hardworking employees, forcing them to work long hours and failing to pay workers what they were owed,” said Attorney General Letitia James.

“Laundry Workers Center has been fighting worker exploitation and wage theft in the laundry industry for over a decade,” said Rosanna Rodríguez, Co-Executive Director, Laundry Workers Center. “We primarily represent immigrant women of color who are heads of households.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James: ‘Treat workers with utmost dignity and respect.’

The OAG launched an investigation of Enterprise in January 2020, after the matter was referred to OAG by the Laundry Workers Center. The investigation revealed that from 2014 to 2020, Enterprise repeatedly violated New York Labor Laws, the Miscellaneous Wage Order of the New York Codes, Rules, and Regulations, and the Earned Safe and Sick Time Act.

In interviews with OAG, former Enterprise employees reported they were not paid the minimum wage after it increased to $15 per hour on December 31, 2018, and payroll documents confirmed that Enterprise employees did not receive the $15 minimum wage until about a year after the increase. Former employees also shared that Enterprise did not pay the proper wages for overtime hours. Enterprise also failed to pay employees spread of hours, which calls for an additional hour of pay when an employee’s workday exceeds 10 hours.

In 2019, Enterprise owners paid some employees only a portion of the wages they were owed — some of these employees eventually received their full wages weeks later, but others never received them. Enterprise also consistently failed to provide new employees with written notice of the rate of pay, regular pay day, and other critical information upon hiring. Enterprise also did not have a paid sick leave policy, did not provide employees with adequate paid sick leave, and even interfered with employees’ right to sick leave by requiring them to find a replacement before calling out sick.

As part of the settlement announced today, Enterprise  will return $90,000 in stolen wages to former employees.

In addition to financial relief, the owners will undergo training related to their responsibilities as employers under New York Labor Law, including but not limited to the obligation to pay the minimum wage, overtime, and spread of hours, the obligation to provide paid sick leave, as well as the obligation not to discriminate.

“An employer who commits wage theft at any scale isn’t just stealing from a worker, they are also stealing from that worker’s family and the law-abiding small businesses who cover their contributions to our shared safety net,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, Chair of the Senate Labor Committee.  “I urge all workers, no matter your immigration status, to learn your rights and exercise them.”

“Wage theft is the largest form of theft in the United States, with 2.1 million New Yorkers alone victim to it every year,” said State Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani. “I could not be more proud to extend solidarity and congratulations to the courageous Astoria laundry workers who took action together and won back $90,000 in wages stolen by their bosses,”

“American bosses steal $15 billion from their workers every single year, disproportionately from immigrants, women, and workers of color — an unacceptable injustice that we must fight hard to end,”  said New York City Council Member Tiffany Cabán.

Many Filipino immigrants work in the laundry and dry clean industry.

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