A New York lawmaker released a report on Jan. 4 that accuses a renowned pro-immigrant nonprofit organization of rampant wage theft. According to the report, the Chinese-American Planning Council required many of its 4,500 home health aides to work 24-hour shifts and then denied them wages they were entitled to under the law. As much as $14 million could have been illegally withheld from workers. The document also alleges that the CPC worked with the country’s largest health care union to keep complaints about stolen wages out of the courts.
The workers involved were assigned to provide around-the-clock health care to seriously ill individuals in their homes. This is not uncommon in the home health care segment, and the New York Department of Labor does allow 24-hour shifts for home health care workers. However, workers can only be on duty for 13 of these hours, and they must have at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep. If these rules are broken, workers are entitled to payment for the entire 24 hours. The report alleges that CPC workers were denied overtime pay even when they worked consecutive 24-hour shifts with little or no rest.
The report paints a grim picture of these immigrants turn to when their rights are violated. Nonprofits appear to prey on the very people they claim to defend, and unions that should advocate for workers help to keep wage theft quiet. When lawsuits filed by disgruntled workers survived attempts to quash them and were assigned to a federal court, the CPC turned to the National Health Care Workers’ Union for help. The nonprofit and union inserted a forced arbitration provision into the collective-bargaining agreement that made sure future complaints would be heard behind closed doors.
Action is needed
This report highlights problems that have been plaguing workers in vulnerable communities for years. If legislators are serious about putting an end to this kind of abuse and preventing exploitation in the future, they should pass laws that punish wage theft more severely and forbid employers from imposing arbitration in wage and hour disputes.