While most of the candidates in the District Attorney’s race are focused on criminal justice reform, Borough President Melinda Katz is distinguishing herself from the pact by campaigning for worker’s rights by honing in on issues like wage theft and workplace safety.
“For generations, Queens has been home to working and middle-class families, as well as different waves of immigrants pursuing the American Dream,” said Katz on Thursday in an op-ed. “People here work hard to give their families new opportunities, but there are also bosses who seek to cheat these families or bump up their profits by putting workers in harm’s way. We need our next District Attorney to put a new focus on these crimes against workers, bringing justice for those who have been victimized for too long.”
If elected, she wants to establish a Worker Protection Bureau, have mandatory investigations for workplace injuries, prosecute workplace violations, elevate wage theft prosecutions and protects immigrant workers in a county that is nearly 50 percent foreign-born.
“The current Economic Crimes Bureau in the Queens DA’s office states that its traditional role is protecting employers from embezzlement by employees,” said Katz. “I believe there must be resources also devoted to addressing the extensive theft in the opposite direction: employers stealing wages from workers. New York’s workers lose over a billion dollars a year due to wage theft.”
Employees that have been hit the hardest were in the janitorial, restaurant, home care and construction fields, according to the borough president, who wants a worker’s protection bureau that would oversee all actions taken by the administration to address workers’ rights and issues.
Some of those hit the hardest by wage theft are immigrants.
“Queens has a rich and thriving immigrant community, but workers from this community are most likely to be targeted for a number of crimes and many are reluctant to report wage theft for fear of having their immigration status threatened,” said Katz in her position paper on worker’s rights.
To protect them, Katz would provide a multilingual team of outreach workers while ensuring there are no arrests for those who report workplace violations and hire liaisons for undocumented immigrants and community organizations that work to serve them.
“While some workers are robbed of their paychecks, others are robbed of their lives and well-being. Workers, especially construction workers, are injured and even killed on the job far too frequently, often as a result of employer negligence,” said Katz.
As DA, she would assign an assistant district attorney with expertise in the construction industry to every major workplace accident or fatality, rather than waiting for the city to drag its feet in getting involved.
“When employers knowingly choose to put construction workers or others at risk, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Katz.