Laundry To Reinstate Workers Illegally Fired For Cooperating With Investigation Of Labor Exploitation

New York State Attorney General Spitzer announced today that a laundry cleaning business will reinstate two workers who were illegally fired after they cooperated in an investigation by his office of labor law violations. In court papers filed yesterday, the laundry, Avenue B Cleaners, located on 60 Avenue B, New York City, agreed to reinstate the workers to their former positions, pay them back wages for the time in which they were out of work, raise their hourly rate of pay and reduce their hours. This action is part of an initiative by the Office of the Attorney General to protect workers' rights to fair wages and safe conditions in the laundry and dry cleaning industry.

"My office is committed to protecting workers subject to unlawful discrimination due to their cooperation with our investigations," Spitzer said. "Our investigations depend on workers' willingness to come forward without fear of reprisal from their employer. We will continue to prosecute employers who illegally retaliate against employees who speak out against unfair working conditions."

To address these workers' needs the Office of the Attorney General launched a campaign to defend their rights to work for a fair wage, free of discrimination and under safe conditions. Since January 2003 there have been 6 investigations of labor practices in the laundry and dry cleaning industries.

Spitzer's office began its investigation of federal and state minimum wage violations by Avenue B Cleaners in December 2002. After an article appeared in the New York Times discussing the workers' experiences, Avenue B Cleaners learned that two workers had cooperated with the Attorney General, and fired them on June 14, 2003. In response, on June 23, 2003 Spitzer filed a lawsuit to get the workers their jobs back along with monetary damages, and to protect the workers from future unlawful dismissals.

One of the two fired workers worked 6 days a week, for up to 12 hours a day and received no more than $250.00 a week. Another worked 6 days a week, 12 to 13 hours a day, for just $280.00. Both made under $4.00 per hour with no overtime when State law requires wages of at least $5.15 per hour and 1 ½ times that rate for hours over 40. The agreement filed in state court guarantees that these workers will receive between $5.15 and $6.00 per hour, with a higher rate for overtime. They will also each receive $840.00 in compensation for the days in which they were out of work.

"The working conditions being investigated in this case are typical of this industry. Workers, who are mostly women, are being exploited. We ask all of those who find themselves in this situation to come forward and denounce it," says Jerry Dominguez of Casa Mexico/AMAT, New York City-based groups that seek to enforce workers rights in the laundry and dry cleaning industry. They estimate that there are approximately 1,500 employees in 500 laundries and dry cleaners the area covering from 125 St. to Houston St. in Manhattan.

Workers can contact the Attorney General by calling 212-416-8700 or writing to Office of the Attorney General, Labor Bureau, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Deborah M. Baumgarten of the Labor Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.