A year ago, the NY Times investigated and broke wide open the nail salon industry, where wage theft was rampant. The story prompted (embarrassed?) Governor Andrew Cuomo to launch a Nail Salon Task Force to investigate prosecute abusive employers in that industry, then upped the ante by establishing an Exploited Workers’ Task Force for other industries.

The effort is paying off. In a report, the state reports:

  • More than 1,500 investigations of more than 3,000 claims made by more than 7,700 workers. The investigations covered over a dozen industries, including nail salons, farms, car washes, and restaurants.
  • Nearly $4 million assessed in unpaid wages.
  • More than 200 retaliation investigations through the Anti-Retaliation Unit
  • More than $350,000 in penalties assessed against employers who engaged in retaliatory actions against workers.
  • Resolved 1,400 cases through the Department of Labor’s Mediation Unit.
  • Establishment of an inter-agency data-sharing and referral system.

Given that estimates of wage theft are $50 billion nationally, these results are relatively tiny, and highlight how much work remains.

Yesterday, Cuomo merged these and other groups into a permanent Joint Task Force on Employee Misclassification and Worker Exploitation. The team includes at least 14 departments, including the Department of Labor, Division of Human Rights and the State Police. To our knowledge, this is the most aggressive state-level initiative for fighting wage theft and other labor abuses. And regardless of what originally prompted Governor Cuomo to act, he and AG Eric Schneiderman have responded with vigor and passion.

We wish them well, and hope that other states will follow suit. Looking at you, home state of Illinois.