A report released by a New York lawmaker on Jan. 4 accuses one of the nation’s leading Asian American nonprofit groups of rampant wage theft. The Chinese-American Planning Council’s published mission is promoting economic and social empowerment in the Asian community, but the report alleges that its Home Attendant Program routinely requires its more than 4,500 health care workers to complete 24-hour shifts with no rest breaks and then denies them the overtime pay they are entitled to under state and federal law.
It is not unusual for health care workers in New York to work 24-hour shifts when they take care of elderly patients in their homes, but state law requires these shifts to include three hours of rest or meal breaks and eight hours of sleep. This means that they are entitled to pay for 13 of the 24 hours. If a worker is on duty for more than 13 hours during one of these shifts, they are entitled to payment for the entire 24 hours. According to the lawmaker’s report, CPC ignored the rules and required its workers to be on call for 24 consecutive hours.
Denials and forced arbitration
The lawmaker believes that the wage theft may have cheated workers out of as much as $14 million. In a press release issued in response the report, the CPC dismissed the allegations as “lies. Untruths and distortions.” The nonprofit group claims that it always pays its workers the wages they are entitled to and has advocated for changing the rules that allow 24-hour shifts. The CPC also denies colluding with a major health care workers union to silence home health aides who complained about stolen wages and poor working conditions.
Will legislators take action?
Wage theft, unsafe working environments and even abuse are worryingly common in positions that are usually filled by minority groups and the poor. This report reveals that the worst offenders are sometimes the very organizations that claim to represent these communities and the unions that are supposed to advocate on their behalf. Previous reports of workplace abuse have attracted a great deal of media attention but little interest from the legislature, it remains to be seen if these allegations will be treated any differently.