Attorney General Cuomo Secures Hundreds Of Thousands In Restitution For Carnival Workers Discriminated Against And Cheated Out Of Proper Pay

NEW YORK, NY (August 31, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his office reached an agreement with Dreamland Amusements, Inc. (“Dreamland”), a New York-based traveling carnival operator to pay workers back for unpaid wages as well as to change its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with labor and civil rights laws. Today’s announcement comes as a result of an extensive investigation into allegations of labor and civil rights violations.

Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation began after his Office received complaints from ride operators who are primarily Mexican workers who Dreamland recruited through a temporary work visa program, which is referred to as the H2B program. The complaints alleged that the workers were denied minimum and overtime wages and subjected to substandard living conditions, while other workers who were not Mexican received preferable conditions. Under the agreement, the company must pay its workers $325,000 in back wages, ensure that housing for employees meets basic hygienic requirements, and train its managers to treat employees equally regardless of race, national origin, or citizenship. The company has also agreed to substantially reform its employment practices, and will retain an independent monitor which will conduct unannounced visits to Dreamland’s work sites and provide regular reports to the Attorney General’s office.

"This company not only denied its employees the pay they had earned - but abused and manipulated a system in place to help foreign-born workers build lives for themselves and their families," said Attorney General Cuomo. "They consistently violated this state’s civil and labor rights and exploited the most vulnerable in their workforce. Today's agreement will deliver welcome restitution to the workers who were cheated, as well as send a message to other employers statewide that abuses of their employees come with a price tag."

According to Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation, Dreamland, which is hired by carnivals and fairs in Essex, Nassau, New York, Orange, Rensselaer, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, and Westchester counties, denied its workers minimum wage and overtime and discriminated against its Mexican employees. Workers for Dreamland travel with the company from show to show, setting up rides, operating them, and then tearing them down to move to the next show. The work is long and grueling, often requiring them to work twenty hours straight to operate a full carnival day and then to tear down the rides without a break. Cuomo’s investigation found that employees often worked 70 or more hours per week, earning less than minimum wage with no overtime. In addition, they lived in cramped trailers often overrun with insects. Dreamland hired its foreign-born workforce through a temporary worker visa program, and then subjected these workers to harsher working conditions, including infested and unsanitary housing conditions, despite worker complaints.

Under federal, New York State and municipal laws, workers have the right to minimum wage and overtime payments, a weekly statement of hours worked and wages paid, sanitary housing conditions, safe workplaces, as well as equal treatment under the law regardless of race, national origin, citizenship, and other protected classifications.

As a result of this investigation, Attorney General Cuomo is contacting other traveling carnival operators operating in New York State to advise them of their legal obligations to comply with federal, state and local laws providing for minimum and overtime wages, statements of hours worked and wages paid, sanitary housing, safe workplaces, and equal treatment regardless of race, national origin, citizenship, or other protected classifications. The Attorney General directs carnival operators with questions about their legal obligations while doing business in New York State to contact this office.

David Udell, Director of the Poverty Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, said: “Equality under the law requires effective enforcement at all levels. This agreement asserts an important role for state law enforcement agencies in assuring that H-2B temporary visa workers receive the minimum guarantees of decent wages, sanitary housing, and safe workplaces free from discrimination. The protections established in this agreement are vital to workers recruited from abroad who are often unable to obtain legal representation and who have few if any alternative means for protecting themselves when their rights are violated.”

Milan Bhatt, Executive Director of the Workers’ Rights Law Center of New York, which initially referred the workers to the Attorney General’s Office, said: “All too often, guest workers find themselves locked into abusive relationships with unscrupulous employers, unable to leave their employment or to demand dignity on the job. The problem is especially acute when employers travel from location to location and the workers live in remote work camps far from the public eye. This agreement sends an important message to mobile carnival operators throughout the state that they must obey all applicable laws regarding worker pay, treatment, and housing.”

The case was handled by Section Chief Andrew J. Elmore of the Civil Rights Bureau and Assistant Attorney General Karen Kithan Yau of the Labor Bureau under the supervision of Bureau Chief for Civil Rights Alphonso B. David, Counsel for Civil Rights Spencer Freedman and Deputy Bureau Chief for Labor Patricia Kakalec.

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