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Managing Attorney, Employment Unit

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT
MANAGING ATTORNEY, EMPLOYMENT UNIT

Catholic Migration Services (“CMS”) provides high quality free legal services, tenant organizing, community education, and advocacy for low-income immigrants residing in Brooklyn and Queens, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. CMS is committed to “welcoming the stranger in our midst” by serving and working alongside underserved immigrant communities to advance equality and social justice. CMS’ three program areas are tenant advocacy, employment and immigration. CMS is an affiliated agency of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens.

The Employment Unit works towards strengthening the enforcement of workers’ rights through affirmative litigation, policy reforms, individual representation, and community education in collaboration with workers’ centers and community-based organizations citywide. The Employment Unit provides advice and representation to hundreds of low wage and immigrant workers each year facing a range of workplace related problems.

POSITION:
The Managing Attorney oversees all work done by the Employment Unit to ensure that the work carries out the CMS mission, is high quality, and meets contractual obligations to CMS’ funders. The Managing Attorney will work with the Director of Legal Services to carry out and further develop the vision of the Employment unit. CMS’ non-supervisory staff are represented by UAW Local 2325 – the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. The Managing Attorney will be based in our Queens office and report to the Director of Legal Services.

ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Develop vision for the Employment Unit in consultation with the Director of Legal Services, Deputy Director, and staff members.
  • Directly supervise Employment team members. Schedule regular support meetings, develop staff work plans, and provide feedback on performance on an ongoing basis.
  • Represent CMS in coalitions, before government and other funders, and before elected officials whenever program input is expected;
  • Manage grant compliance and reporting, ensuring deliverables are being met for all government/private funders, and provide assistance in report writing as needed;
  • Work collaboratively with other CMS managers and the Director of Legal Services to manage CMS and facilitate the provision of services in a holistic manner across all of CMS’ programs and worksites;
  • Represent clients in employment related legal proceedings including before administrative agencies, trial courts, and appellate courts;
  • Identify professional development opportunities for staff, develop in-house trainings, and mentor staff members;
  • Maintain organized and up-to-date files and database of caseload;
  • Assist in planning and implementation of strategic projects related to legal services; and
  • Assist in the daily operation of the office. 

REQUIREMENTS

  • D. from an accredited law school;
  • Admission to the New York State Bar and current status of good standing;
  • Minimum of seven years of employment legal experience, with prior supervisory experience preferred;
  • Excellent writing, communication and analytical skills;
  • Computer proficiency, including Microsoft Office;
  • Competency in one or more foreign languages is preferred;
  • Demonstrated ability to take initiative and work independently, as well as to work collaboratively with a team; and
  • Ability and experience working with staff and clients from diverse backgrounds and communities.

SALARY & BENEFITS:
The salary range for a Managing Attorney with seven to ten years of directly relevant experience is $100,725.31 and $107,217.41. CMS offers a very competitive benefits package that includes medical, dental and vision insurance coverage, transit benefits, Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and a 403(b) retirement plan including employer contribution. We offer generous leave policies, including four weeks paid vacation in the first year of employment, four paid personal days, fourteen paid holidays and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Days, inclusive.

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS:
Applications will be accepted immediately and will be considered on a rolling basis. Interested applicants should send a cover letter, resume, list of three professional references and two writing samples to: Magdalena Barbosa, Director of Legal Services and Sr. Vice President, at mbarbosa@catholicmigration.org. Please include “Managing Attorney Application” in the subject line. 

DIVERSITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION POLICY:
Catholic Migration Services values workplace diversity and welcomes applicants and employees of all backgrounds. Catholic Migration Services makes all employment decisions without regard to any applicant’s or employee’s protected characteristics, including their race, religion, color, national origin, immigration status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, arrest conviction record, or marital status.


Download this job announcement as a PDF: Managing Attorney, Employment Unit

Town Hall on Tenant Right to Counsel Bill

Photo: Charlie Finnerty, Queens Ledger

 

In The News – Queens Community Orgs Host Town Hall on Tenant Right to Counsel Bill

A Push for Statewide Right to Counsel Legislation

Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Housing

Catholic Migration Services Testimony on Urgent Need to Fund and Pass Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721)

Catholic Migration Services is a proud member of the Right to Counsel Coalition, which unites tenants, organizers, legal services providers, unions, faith communities and many others who are working to ensure that all New Yorkers across the state have a Right to Counsel when facing eviction. We and members of our Housing Courts Must Change! Campaign collectively represent tens of thousands of tenants across New York State and are honored to work on permanent and transformative solutions to New York’s eviction crisis.

Catholic Migration Services, a not-for-profit legal services provider affiliated with Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, provides free legal services and Know Your Rights education to low-income individuals regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. We assist immigrants with immigration legal services, tenants in Queens with housing legal services, and low-wage workers with employment legal services.

The historic passage in 2017 of New York City’s Right to Counsel law made NYC the first place in the nation to establish a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction, and inspired a movement across the country, which has now seen over 20 cities, states and counties win a Right to Counsel, including Westchester County in 2023. The statistics speak for themselves: 84% of NYC tenants with a Right to Counsel lawyer have won their case and been able to remain in their homes; and default evictions as well as eviction filings have dropped dramatically. San Francisco saw a 10% drop in eviction filing rates in just one year after passing a universal RTC, and two-thirds of all represented tenants were able to remain in their homes. Cleveland found that within the first six months of having Right to Counsel, 93% of tenants with a Right to Counsel lawyer avoided eviction or an involuntary move.

Right to Counsel works. It’s a solution with a proven track record of success everywhere it’s passed. Yet while New York City led this charge, the majority of New Yorkers still lack this fundamental right. And with landlords suing over 175,000 New Yorkers for eviction, New York State needs Right to Counsel now more than ever. In many localities across the state, only a fraction of tenants facing eviction are represented. In Albany, for example, in 2022, less than 2% of tenants had an attorney, while the vast majority of landlords were represented. This rate of representation is even lower when it comes to affirmative cases to protect against neglect of repairs, harassment or illegal lock out. Most tenants outside of New York City experience housing court as a place that only exists to facilitate eviction–a place where they have little to no recourse to assert their own rights, in particular, their right to a safe, habitable home.

That’s why we are now fighting, with over 100 statewide partners, for a Statewide Right to Counsel. S2721, our Right to Counsel for ALL legislation introduced by Senator Rachel May, guarantees the right to a free attorney for all New Yorkers facing displacement across the state. This year we are also requesting $260 million in funding to begin Right to Counsel’s implementation. $260 million is the necessary first step in empowering a wholesale change in our court system. It’s going to allow for tens of thousands more tenants to be represented. It will equip attorneys to fully litigate their cases and help ensure long-term housing stability for tenants. It will transform workplace conditions for legal providers and help us to compete nationally, attracting the next generation of civil legal talent to New York State. It will support organizers whose work is essential to ensuring tenants know what their rights are and how to use them. And it will establish a new state agency, the Office of Civil Representation, to oversee the Right to Counsel.

We urge you to support the funding and passage of Right to Counsel in the budget this year. As a society, we cannot stand by any longer while New Yorkers are forced into a confusing and traumatizing court system without counsel by their side, and as a result, face devastating consequences that could’ve been avoided. We know that establishing this right will keep New Yorkers in their homes, prevent an array of long-lasting harms to our families and communities, and save our state money in the long-term. New York has every reason to pass and fund S2721 in the budget this year, and we count on your leadership to ensure this happens.


Click here to read the original testimony submitted to the NYS Assembly: Catholic Migration Services Testimony on Urgent Need to Fund and Pass Statewide Right to Counsel (S2721)

Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights

Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases (Photo: BNN)

In the News – Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases

February 25, 2024
By Nimrah Khatoon, BNN Breaking

Discover the transformative power of legal representation highlighted at the ‘Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel’ event in Woodside, Queens, as community leaders rally for increased legal aid for tenants facing eviction.

In the heart of Woodside, Queens, a passionate gathering unfolded on February 21, 2024, marking a pivotal moment in the fight for tenants’ rights. The ‘Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel’ event, orchestrated by local non-profit groups, drew a crowd that included Assembly Members Steven Raga and Juan Ardila, alongside community residents and leaders from Woodside on the Move and Catholic Migration Services. The spotlight was on the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTC NYC), vocalizing a compelling plea for a $300 million budget allocation to fortify legal aid for tenants on the brink of eviction.

A Personal Touch to a Public Issue

Assembly Member Steven Raga, sharing poignant snippets of his own brush with eviction, underscored the transformative power of legal representation. The 2017 law, a legacy of former mayor Bill de Blasio, was hailed for its strides in guaranteeing Housing Court representation for low-income residents. Yet, Raga and the RTC NYC spotlighted a glaring gap — the myriad tenants still in the dark about their rights or ensnared in legal battles without timely counsel.

The Crusade for Comprehensive Coverage

The clarion call at the town hall was not just for awareness but for actionable change. The coalition’s advocacy for legislation to educate tenants, decelerate eviction proceedings, and broaden the right to counsel statewide with additional funding echoed through Woodside. With the Statewide Right to Counsel bill garnering substantial support among New York State senators and assembly members, these community events serve as critical conduits for rallying support and spreading the word.

Parallel Pathways: The Broader Right to Counsel Movement

The quest for legal representation extends beyond housing courts, touching the lives of immigrants facing removal proceedings. Advocates from the CARE for Immigrant Families campaign for a right to counsel in all immigration removal cases, with a proposed $150 million funding for immigration legal services. This movement, akin to the push in Woodside, underscores a broader societal recognition of the right to counsel as fundamental, not just in eviction scenarios but in all legal battles that can profoundly impact lives.

The town hall in Woodside is more than a local affair; it’s a beacon for statewide — and potentially nationwide — reform. As community leaders and residents unite in their call for justice, the echoes of their advocacy resound far beyond the confines of Queens, heralding a future where the right to legal counsel is an unassailable pillar of justice for all.


Read the original article on BNN Breaking: Woodside Rallies for Tenants’ Rights: A Push for Statewide Legal Counsel in Eviction Cases

Woodside Residents Call for Statewide Right to Counsel

Several of the attendees at the townhall held on Feb. 21, 2024. QNS Photo

In the News – Assemblymembers Raga and Ardila join dozens of Woodside residents fighting for statewide right to counsel

Feb. 25, 2024
By Czarinna Andres and QNS Staff

Several non-profit groups held a town hall meeting in Woodside Wednesday evening where they advocated for the statewide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.

The event, held at the St. Sebastian’s Parish Center and called Queens United: Town Hall for Right to Counsel,” was attended by Assembly Members Steven Raga and Juan Ardila, along with dozens of residents and the leaders of Woodside on the Move and Catholic Migration Services.

The town hall, which was led by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTC NYC), an advocacy group that wants tenants facing eviction across the state to be provided with free counsel, featured a teach-in explaining the organization’s demands, including $300 million in the New York City budget to fund legal aid for tenants.

Raga, a Woodside native who holds the Assembly District 30 seat, said Wednesday night that he had first-hand experience of the trauma of being evicted, adding that right to counsel can help protect tenants in court.

“I was raised by an immigrant single mother who was evicted multiple times,” Raga said Wednesday.

“I could see how being in such an unstable environment, especially as a child, can really turn your world upside down. Something like this (RTC) can help prevent and deter the moral wrong of a landlord trying to push you out.”

RTC NYC led the campaign to introduce right to counsel legislation in New York City, which was signed into law by former mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017. The law promises legal representation in Housing Court to any resident facing eviction whose income is 200% of the federal poverty level or less.

The group claims the law has had a positive impact on tenants facing eviction, stating that 84% of tenants who accessed legal counsel under the law have won their case in Housing Court.

However, Katy Lassell, campaign organizer with RTC NYC, said many New York City tenants are still facing the court without legal representation because they are unaware of right to counsel. She said RTC seeks legislation that requires courts to make tenants aware of this right before a case is heard.

Furthermore, she added, many cases proceed so fast that tenants do not have time to obtain legal counsel. RTC NYC is calling on the courts to slow down eviction hearings to give tenants time to obtain counsel.

The non-profit is seeking protections for tenants across the Empire State. It seeks right to counsel on a statewide basis and is additionally calling for an extra $300 million in funding to ensure that New York City tenants can avail of legal counsel in Housing Court.

The coalition is pushing for the passage of three bills in the New York State Legislature, including the Statewide Right to Counsel bill, which will guarantee all New Yorkers access to a free attorney when facing eviction. The bill also sets out the need for $172 million in funding for the program.

It is also calling on the legislature to pass the Winter Eviction Moratorium, which would prevent judges from issuing eviction warrants between Oct. 1 and May 31, and the Defend Right to Counsel bill, which mandates that the state court system upholds local right to counsel laws in New York City and Westchester.

Raga said right to counsel legislation has been demonstrably positive for tenants in New York City but said it needed to be expanded to cover the entire state.

“People are better off than we were when it wasn’t there. We’ve seen how it could help and we need to spread this outside the city, but also fund it so that more folks in the city can access and be protected. There’s nothing wrong with protecting our New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable.”

The Statewide Right to Counsel bill has received the support of 32 senators (51%) in the New York State Senate, while 62 assembly members (41%) have endorsed it in the State Assembly.

Meanwhile, Raga said more than 30 assembly members have supported a call for the provision of $172 million in the state budget for right to counsel.

“It’s a good sign that we have 30-plus assembly members signing onto the budget letter. It shows that there’s overwhelming support for it,” Raga said.

He added that community events such as Wednesday’s town hall, which drew around 60 participants, are pivotal to the success of the statewide right to counsel movement.

“These are natural, organic events that help spread the word and show how we can support each other,” Raga said. “That sets the tone and gives guys like me a chance to prove in Albany that this isn’t an abstract, theoretical thing. I can show that people need it, people are organizing for it, and people deserve it.”

Ardila, who holds the Assembly District 37 seat, said Wednesday that statewide right to counsel is “incredibly important,” especially for minority communities.

“This is something that’s very personal for me because we see how many communities of color and undocumented immigrants suffer from this due to a lack of representation navigating the legal system,” Ardila said Wednesday. “They are not the only ones, but they are often time victims of unscrupulous landlords or unscrupulous evictions.”

Representatives from local community groups said Queens tenants are still facing the Housing Court without legal representation.

Bryan Fotino, tenant organizer with Catholic Migration Services, said the group frequently travel to Queens Housing Court to support local tenants who are facing evictions without legal counsel.

Frances Macalimbon Hamed, a policy and advocacy coordinator with Woodside on the Move, said she has also seen Queens tenants face the Housing Court without legal representation and added that some tenants are simply not aware of the Right to Counsel law.

“All New York City residents should be made aware that in NYC if they meet certain eligibility requirements they may be eligible for Right to Counsel. Often, many of the tenants Woodside on the Move encounters at Housing Court are unaware of their Right to Counsel and are forced to defend themselves alone,” Macalimbon Hamed said.

“Evictions are traumatizing. Evictions destabilize families and entire communities. And evictions have both immediate and long-term emotional, social, and economic implications.”


Read the original article in the Queens Post: Assemblymembers Raga and Ardila join dozens of Woodside residents fighting for statewide right to counsel

Rockwood Music Hall Workers Sue Owner for Unpaid Wages

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, November 16, 2023

Employees of Rockwood Music Hall, located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, are suing the venue’s owner, Kenneth Rockwood, for unpaid wages.  The workers state in their complaint that on payday they were often left empty-handed.  Mr. Rockwood often paid them only a portion of their wages or nothing at all.

Rockwood Music Hall, a well-known venue, has featured performances by many artists, including Sara Bareilles, Sting, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga.  The workers, porters who have worked at the performance space since 2011, state that the problem began in 2022, several months before Rockwood Music Hall’s corporate entity, Kenrock Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy and a #PreserveRockwood fundraising campaign was launched.  By then, Mr. Rockwood already owed the workers a significant amount of money for unpaid wages and for years of unpaid overtime.  Yet, Mr. Rockwood did not identify the workers as creditors in bankruptcy filings and did not direct any of the fundraising proceeds toward making them whole.

Meanwhile, in May 2023, Mr. Rockwood opened a new venue, also named Rockwood Music Hall, which is located in Boston.

“It affects us at the end of every week. We need the money to pay gas, electricity, and especially the rent. We cannot plan for anything,” said Roman Moreno Martinez.

“When I found out that he had money to open a new club in Boston but not to pay the workers, it offended me. It showed a lack of respect.  It wasn’t right,” added Felipe Vargas.

“After the workers came to our office with concerns about their unpaid wages, they realized that Mr. Rockwood had also failed to pay them overtime premiums, despite the fact that they nearly always worked over 40 hours per week,” said Alice Davis, their attorney.

The lawsuit, Moreno Martinez, et al. v. Rockwood, S.D.N.Y. (23-cv-10058) was filed November 15, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The suit alleges multiple violations under the Federal Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

The lawsuit was filed on the workers’ behalf by attorneys at Catholic Migration Services.  The Workers’ Rights Program offers advice and representation to low-wage workers on issues such as wage theft and workplace discrimination.

# # #


About Catholic Migration Services: For over 50 years, Catholic Migration Services, a not-for-profit legal services provider affiliated with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, has been providing quality legal services to low-income individuals in New York City in the areas of immigration, housing, and employment. For more information, please visit www.catholicmigration.org and connect with us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram @CMSBQ.

 

PRESS MENTION: In Queens, Strangers Become Neighbors

Sam Ida stands with his daughter, Laila, in front of the building where their family has lived for more than a decade. Multiple rent increases over the last few years raised concerns for Mr. Ida and motivated him to help start a tenant association. (Photo: Tom Sibley for The New York Times)

Rent increases in a building in Sunnyside encouraged tenants to band together. Now they know one another’s names and help keep an eye on building management.

November 6, 2023
By D.W. Gibson

It wasn’t a dramatic rent increase. “Just $35.01,” said Sam Ida, who received a letter informing him of the change.

The notice went to everyone in his building in Queens because the increase was spurred by what’s known as a major capital improvement, or M.C.I. If a landlord makes an improvement to a building that benefits all tenants, some of those costs can be passed on to the tenants through a rent increase, which can remain in effect for up to 30 years. In the case of Mr. Ida’s building, the elevator had been renovated.

He didn’t fear paying the extra $35.01 each month — he and his wife, Aimee Nazario Ida, both work and could cover the increase. What he found unnerving was the hunch that this might not be his last M.C.I. notification.

It wasn’t.

The first had come just months before the pandemic, the second arrived after the rental market recovered. This time it was an increase of $39.12 to cover work on the building’s facade.

Mr. Ida’s family had moved into the rent-stabilized apartment 11 years earlier. His daughter, Laila, was only 2 and his son, Voltron, wasn’t yet born. But he and Ms. Ida, whom he met when they were students at the Pratt Institute, were already thinking long-term. They liked that there was an elementary school across the street, parks nearby and tree-lined sidewalks all around. “It’s a nice area for families,” Mr. Ida recalled thinking.

The neighborhood felt perfect, even if the 55-unit, brick building didn’t. “It’s old, prewar,” he said, “and not that great of a building.”

There was the time water came pouring through the ceiling. When Mr. Ida ran upstairs to knock on the door of the apartment above his, he discovered that his neighbor also had water coming through the ceiling. Together they ran up to the next floor and helped yet another neighbor locate a bathtub leak. “But we never considered these kinds of things a big deal,” he said. “We just took everything in stride.”

While Mr. Ida said the building’s super would address major issues like water cascading through multiple units, smaller things festered — cockroaches and mice, missing window guards and peeling paint. Mr. Ida, who grew up the son of a carpenter, said, “To be honest, when something’s fairly minor, I just fix it myself.”

Mr. Ida learned to looked past the challenges of the building because of the neighborhood — and the spaciousness of his family’s two-bedroom. “In New York,” he said, “it’s the biggest place I’ve ever lived.”

The apartment has provided plenty of room for his two children to grow over the years. They’re 9 and 13 now and the apartment is, with all its imperfections, the family’s home — affordable and suited to their priorities.

Occupation: Children’s book illustrator, teacher and sign maker

On making books: Mr. Ida has designed over 35 children’s books, specializing in pop-up books. “It’s a really small world,” he said. “There were only 30 or so of us when I started.” Today, he says, more artists are learning pop-up techniques. “They make single issues or very small runs of pop-up artist books, rather than publishing for the mass market.”

On hearing from readers: “Occasionally, I still get heartfelt letters or messages from people who bought my books a long time ago or found them at a thrift store,” Mr. Ida said. “There is a lot I love about making pop-up books. As an art form, it holds a great deal of untapped potential. The books can connect on a deep level with some people.”

When the multiple M.C.I. increases came along, it rattled Mr. Ida. If the increases continued, he thought, they could accumulate beyond his family’s budget, forcing a move — not just from the apartment but from their routines, schools, and beloved Sunnyside.

After the second notification arrived, he heard others start to grumble. “Every time I walked out the door,” he said, “I’d walk into a conversation about this. I think if it was just me, I wouldn’t have done anything about it, but because everyone was mobilized, we had to do something to disincentivize them from doing this perpetually.”

In March, Mr. Ida saw a flier at his local library: Catholic Migration Services, which provides legal services to immigrants, was holding a workshop focused on how to form a tenants’ association. “I told the guys who are always complaining in front of the building that we should go to the class and try to start an association,” he said. “At that workshop we really got organized and decided on a course of action, believing that we had a pretty good chance to — if not get the second increase canceled — at least get it reduced.”

Mr. Ida distributed fliers throughout the building for a first meeting. At the workshop he learned that getting a third of all tenants to attend would be a success. “For that first meeting,” he recalled, “half the building showed up.”

The association was advised by its legal counsel to request a copy of the application that had been submitted by the building’s owner. When Mr. Ida and other members of the association reviewed the materials, they noticed that certain figures provided in the paperwork did not match figures in copies of receipts that were included. “The application seemed a little thrown together,” he said. “It seemed like they weren’t really expecting anyone to take a closer look at it.”

At the same time, Mr. Ida and his neighbors decided to stop living with all the needed repairs they had learned to ignore or fix themselves: broken light fixtures, warped floors, walls crumbling from previous water leaks. “We made a list of all the violations in the building and flooded 311 with complaints related to them,” he said. According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building has had 113 violations, 27 of which remain open.

With the first M.C.I. increase already implemented, the association petitioned for the second to be delayed and the request was granted. “We put the brakes on the increase and let them know we were appealing it,” Mr. Ida said. “In that process if you respond as an association, you have a much better chance of getting a better result than as an individual.”

While the association awaits an outcome regarding the second increase, Mr. Ida said the organizing has already had an effect. “Since we formed the association,” he said, “the management has been better about getting things fixed.” What’s more, the association has changed the culture of the building. “People I had only known in passing,” he said, “I finally got to know their names.”

Representatives at MCP Property Management, which manages the building, did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

Despite the fact that so many people have lived in the building for so long, retiring there and living on a fixed income, it wasn’t until the association was formed that they started to get to know one another.

The tenants maintain an active chat group, they are aware of one another’s issues and they help their neighbors out — people store packages for each other so they aren’t stolen anymore, they keep spare keys for each other and help out with dog walks. A collection of people who shared a building have become, in the truest sense, neighbors.

“Overall, it’s made us more connected to each other. We’re working to improve the building and have a voice in that process. I feel like even if we lose on the second M.C.I., we have to push back or the people who own the building will just keep wanting more and more.”

Mr. Ida’s penchant for organizing has spilled into other areas of his life. He’s been teaching at New York University since 2014 but only recently got involved in the labor union. “After we formed the tenant association,” he said, “it inspired me to get more involved and I went to a union meeting for the first time. I’m not normally someone who would really get involved in these things, but it’s good to know you’re not alone in whatever your struggles are.”


Read the original article in The New York Times: In Queens, Strangers Become Neighbors

PRESS MENTION: Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso

Screenshot of news coverage from NY1 Noticias.

Screenshot of news coverage via NY1 Noticias.

September 15, 2023
By NY1 Noticias

Antonio Flores dice que por años ha padecido acoso de parte del casero donde vive.

Y al igual que él, otras 5 familias mexicanas que viven en el edificio ubicado en el 28-18 de la Avenida 38th, en Long Island City, Queens, han demandado ante la corte de vivienda al propietario del inmueble por haberlos dejado sin gas durante 8 meses.

Y también aseguran, porque los vigilan cada paso que dan.

“El problema es que tenemos mucho acoso por un hombre que contrató el dueño, nos acosaba mucho, nos investigaba, a qué hora salíamos de la casa, sacaba fotos”, dijo Antonio Flores, inquilino.

Poco antes de la audiencia ante el juez, todos ellos acompañados de activistas protestaron frente a la corte, en espera que sus voces y reclamos sea escuchados y fallen a su favor.

Martín Hernández, quien también es inquilino, ya le demandó hace 10 anos por agresión física y ganó. Sin embargo, el acoso no ha parado, asegura.

“Eso fue a parar hasta la corte obviamente y se le pusieron cargos al super, y desafortunadamente al dueño no se le pudieron poner cargos por el poder que tiene y hasta la fecha sigue acosándome, esto no termina”, dijo Hernández.

Antonia Martínez no se queda atrás, pues dice que también ha sido blanco de injurias y hasta de amenazas.

“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.

Viven constantemente con miedo, dicen los inquilinos.

“Nuestros hijos también tienen miedo de sus trabajadores y del dueño porque no se sienten libre de vivir en el departamento, y es muy estresante”, agregó Antonia.

Como estresante es la permanente vigilancia…

“Instaló cámaras, de hecho nos mandó fotos que cuando salimos, cuando botamos basura, a la hora que llegamos del trabajo”, dijo Hernández.

La demanda también exige la reparación por los meses sin gas en sus apartamentos.

“Los inquilinos están pidiendo una reducción de renta de la cuenta que se debe ahora, por la huelga por no tener gras por 8 meses, y también una reducción en la renta del futuro para poder quedarse en su hogar”, dijo Amy Collado, de Servicios Católicos de Migración.

Enviamos un correo al propietario, pero hasta el cierre de este reportaje no obtuvimos respuesta.


See the original news coverage via NY1 Noticias (en español): Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso

PRESS MENTION: Zara Realty ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters

Zara Realty ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters

August 18, 2023
By CBS NEW YORK

NEW YORK — We have an update on a Queens landlord accused of tenant abuse.

It’s a story we first told you about on July 31.

Now, Zara Realty has been ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters.

A judge granted the motion by the state attorney general.

Tenants in rent-stabilized units in Flushing say Zara Realty harassed and tricked them into paying predatory fees.

PRESS MENTION: New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages

New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages

(Courtesy of ProPublica)

 

The New York State Department of Labor still needs to recover 63% of stolen wages during a five-year period analyzed by ProPublica and Documented. The problem? An understaffed agency with poor tools for recovering wages and enforcing judgments.

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with DocumentedSign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Saprina James was hopeful when she received a letter in 2019 about her wage theft claim against her former employer. The letter said the New York State Department of Labor had substantiated her claim and ordered Mugisha F. Sahini and his company, Riverside Line, to pay her more than $70,000 in back wages. “I was feeling good that the government was on my side, and that I would soon get paid,” she said.

James first started driving a van for Sahini in January 2016, taking people to medical appointments in Buffalo, New York. She often worked six days a week, usually helping dialysis patients who relied on walkers, and drove clients from 4:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. She didn’t mind the long hours — she assumed that her pay would ultimately reflect her hard work.

“It was very hard for me,” said James, who had a difficult time paying her rent and groceries, as well as taxes owed on her income as an independent contractor.

In late 2017, James quit and filed a wage theft claim with the Department of Labor, accusing Sahini and Riverside Line of violating the minimum wage law. She was later joined by her former co-workers, who also claimed minimum wage violations.

The agency substantiated the workers’ claims two years later, ordering Sahini to pay nearly $425,000 in back wages and $850,000 in penalties.

But the Department of Labor, which is responsible for both investigating wage theft claims and recovering back wages, has not been able to collect even a penny on behalf of James. Sahini flatly refused to pay for more than a year, James said, and then appealed the case, claiming that he wasn’t aware that the workers were earning less than minimum wage. The appeal has since been rejected, but James has yet to receive any payment.

About to turn 60, James said she’s now unemployed and running through her savings to pay her bills. “I’m so upset,” she said. “This is ridiculous. I don’t understand why it takes so long.”

Sahini did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

What happened to James is strikingly common among victims of wage theft in New York state, an investigation by Documented and ProPublica found. She and her former co-workers are among thousands of wage theft victims whose employers were ordered by the Department of Labor to pay, but for whom the agency failed to fully recover back wages, according to an analysis of the agency’s database of wage theft violations from 2017 through 2021.

In all, during the five-year period, the agency determined that at least $126 million in wages had been stolen from workers, the analysis shows. As of Feb. 21, however, the agency still needed to recover about $79 million of that total — or about 63% of the back wages.

Of the outstanding back wages, the agency hadn’t recovered at least $7.8 million because of “uncollectible” circumstances, such as businesses going bankrupt or investigators being unable to track down employers, the analysis shows.

The rest, about $71 million, was labeled by the agency as “pending payment,” which means either that no payments or only partial payments had been made, or that the cases were being appealed.

Of the thousands of businesses in the database, at least 95 with outstanding back wages were repeat offenders, each failing to fully pay in at least two cases during the five-year period, the analysis shows.

A case in point: The agency began investigating Brooklyn-based Reymond Construction in 2018 and opened three additional cases in 2019 based on claims filed by 12 workers. It eventually ordered the company to pay more than $31,950 in back wages, but as of Feb. 21 the payments were still pending. The owner of Reymond Construction did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Labor experts said it’s hard to compare New York’s wage recovery effort against those of other states because of the paucity of wage theft data. State labor enforcement agencies across the country either do not make such information publicly available or do not maintain it in a standardized format that allows for state-by-state comparisons.

National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, a worker-rights organization, is so frustrated with the Department of Labor’s wage recovery rate that it has mostly stopped sending workers to the agency. “It’s a waste of time,” said JoAnn Lum, the group’s director. “I’ve seen so many workers file claims, and they’re told that they’re owed so much in back wages — and then nothing happens.”

Advocates and labor lawyers, as well as eight former Department of Labor officials interviewed by Documented and ProPublica, said it’s critical for the agency to improve its wage recovery rate. But they said the agency has a number of problems that prevent that from happening: Its enforcement unit is chronically understaffed; it lacks a collections unit tasked with wage recovery; and its investigators, unlike their counterparts in other states, do not have legal authority to take actions against recalcitrant employers.

The former agency officials, some of whom had spent decades working at the Department of Labor, said these challenges often leave investigators incapable of enforcing the law against unscrupulous employers. One official — who still works in state government and did not want his name used out of fear of retaliation — put it this way: “If an employer said, ‘Fuck you,’” in response to a payment demand, “there’s not much the agency can do.”

The Department of Labor, which released wage theft data after Documented sued the agency over its refusal to do so, “works diligently to protect the paychecks of hard-working New Yorkers,” Aaron Cagwin, an agency spokesperson, said in a statement.

Cagwin said the agency is also “consistently making improvements to its wage theft investigations and wage recovery processes,” including improving how wage theft claims can be filed and expanding law enforcement partnerships.

Advocates said workers are the ones who suffer the consequences of the agency’s poor wage recovery rate: They are often forced to move on to other jobs, rely on their family for support, go on public assistance, or relocate to another state or, in the case of immigrants, back to their country of origin.

“Wage theft impacts the lowest-wage workers who need that money to pay the rent, buy groceries, take care of their families,” said Magdalena Barbosa, senior vice president at Catholic Migration Services. She noted that New York has strong labor laws that don’t “trickle down into enforcement — and you have workers waiting sometimes for many years to get a small piece of what they’re owed in back wages.”

Vincent Cao, an organizer with the Chinese Staff & Workers Association, said “it’s the cruelest slap in the face to award them back wages that take so long to arrive.”

On a bitterly cold morning in December, a former senior investigator with the Department of Labor was sitting in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, reflecting on his years at the agency. Bald and bespectacled, he raised his eyebrows and described a Sisyphean environment in which overworked investigators faced scarce resources, bureaucratic obstacles and unscrupulous employers and their lawyers while trying in vain to reduce a backlog of thousands of wage theft cases. “It feels hopeless sometimes,” he said, “but more than hopeless — it makes me angry.”

The former investigator’s assessment was echoed by the seven other agency officials interviewed by Documented and ProPublica. They all expressed their frustration with the agency’s chronic failure to fulfill one of its core mandates: to protect the state’s 10 million workers from wage theft.

The former investigator, who still works in state government and did not want his name used out of fear of retaliation, blamed New York’s political leaders for not prioritizing the agency’s mission and perpetually underfunding it.

Budget figures for the agency’s enforcement arm, the Division of Labor Standards — which the former investigator joined more than a decade ago — are available from 2008 to 2022, and they show that its budget went up by 17.8% from $28 million to $33 million during that period. Just to keep up with the inflation rate, the budget would have had to increase by an additional $5 million.

Some state lawmakers said the agency’s woes were particularly pronounced during the tenure of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ran New York from 2011 to 2021. On the one hand, Cuomo launched two joint task forces made up of multiple agencies to crack down on industries, such as car washes and construction, where wage theft is prevalent. But he also instituted a spending cap that kept most state agencies from increasing their budget by more than 2% each year.

With the tight budget, the Division of Labor Standards reduced the number of employees from 282 in 2008 to 140 in 2017, while the number of open investigations climbed from 6,923 in January 2008 to 15,824 in January 2017, according to agency documents obtained by Make the Road New York, an immigrant-rights organization, and shared with Documented and ProPublica. The vast majority of the division’s employees are investigators, while administrative and support staff make up the rest.

Carmine Ruberto, who ran the Division of Labor Standards from 2007 to 2015, recalled the impact of the tight budget on staff morale and workload. “Do I think we could have done better under Cuomo if we had gotten more people? Sure,” he said.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesperson for the former governor, said wage theft was “a huge priority” for Cuomo, but his administration’s hands were tied with limited resources.

“In 10 of the 11 years during his administration, we had structural deficits and we came in at the heels of the Great Recession where giant cuts had already been made. And we had to restructure government in order to make things right,” Azzopardi said. “I do understand that some people have different opinions on what the money should have been spent on. But it’s a balance.”

Under Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Division of Labor Standards saw its budget increase by $7 million, or 19.5%, in 2023, but the number of full-time employees now stands at 129 and has increased only by three since the governor took office in 2021.

Justin Henry, deputy communications director for Hochul, declined to comment.

The former investigator said the tight budget also meant that the agency couldn’t form a collections unit fully staffed with those versed in financial fraud investigation, asset tracking and locating employers, which could then be deployed for wage recovery — a task that Terri Gerstein, the agency’s former deputy commissioner, called “a crucial part of the process.”

Instead, the agency has been relying on senior investigators to handle the task, which adds to their workload and sometimes requires them to do tasks they’re not trained for, such as overseeing the payment plans of some employers, several former agency officials said.

The agency needs “a proper collections unit,” Gerstein said.

In addition to the lack of the collections unit, the former agency officials said the process is slowed down because each case has to be reviewed by several layers of officials.

For instance, once a claim is substantiated, the case goes to a senior investigator, who can sometimes take up to a year and a half to review it. Similarly, when an employer is unresponsive, the Division of Labor Standards issues an order to comply, but only after getting approvals from three more layers of officials.

The former investigator said the bureaucratic bottleneck helped create long delays in recovering back wages. “It’s not like we push a button and increase the speed of the machine and then the cases come out at the other end,” he said.

The analysis of the agency’s database appears to back up the former investigator’s claim. As of Feb. 21, the agency had recovered no wages in 8,300 cases — affecting about 29,000 workers — that were at least five years old, or more than a fifth of the total cases from that time period.

Two of the long-pending cases were filed by Fernando, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant who worked as a delivery driver for two Brooklyn restaurants. He filed his claim against the first restaurant in 2009 and another claim with his co-worker against the second restaurant in 2015.

The agency substantiated the claims, finding that two restaurants owed Fernando and his co-worker a total of more than $380,000 in back wages. Fernando, who requested to be identified by only his middle name because he’s undocumented, said he has not received his back wages. “The most important thing is the DOL could resolve these cases quicker,” he said.

The former agency officials said that when investigators try to go after employers for back wages, they find themselves without effective enforcement tools to force quick payments.

The orders to comply, for instance, can be appealed at the state’s Industrial Board of Appeals, a five-person panel that can take months, or even years, to adjudicate a case. In the vast majority of the cases, the board eventually sides with the agency. But even then, former agency officials said, employers often continue to ignore the orders, knowing that they are unlikely to face any consequences from doing so.

The former agency officials also said filing judgments in court against particularly recalcitrant employers often fails to force quick payments: While it puts a mark on their credit report, employers can and do get around the judgment by conducting their businesses in someone else’s name or getting a private loan from their family and friends.

Advocates and labor lawyers agreed that this was common practice. “Just because you get a judgment doesn’t mean you can collect on it,” said Margaret McIntyre, a lawyer who represents wage theft victims.

Advocates and labor lawyers said New York could adopt a number of tactics that have been successfully deployed in other states.

In Maryland and Wisconsin, for instance, workers are allowed to place a lien on their employers’ personal property to secure the payment of back wages. This has proven to be effective, according to a 2015 report by the Legal Aid Society, Urban Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “A wage lien not only encourages an employer to dispute the matter and play fair in court, but ensures that if the workers win their case, they may actually be able to enforce a judgment against the employers’ property and collect the wages they are owed,” the report said.

New York, in fact, has had a lien law for decades, but it only applies to certain workers in the construction industry. Industry pressure, especially from the powerful New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents restaurant owners, has helped defeat legislation introduced in recent years to expand the law’s scope.

In June, after the latest lien bill stumbled in Albany, the Hospitality Alliance issued a statement, saying it would have been a violation of due process to allow an employee to place a lien on “the private property of the owners, investors and even managers of the business based solely on the accusation of wage violations.”

In California, businesses appealing the finding of wage theft violations are required to post a surety bond up to $150,000, which they forfeit if they fail to pay back wages after losing on appeal. Those who fail to post the bond can be and are prohibited from doing business in the state.

In New York, the state has a similar bonding rule, which was implemented in the wake of a 2015 New York Times exposé on working conditions in nail salons, but it only applies to owners of nail salons with at least two workers. New York City also has a limited bonding rule that applies to owners of car wash businesses. Advocates for nail salon and car wash workers said they didn’t have enough data to know whether the bonding rules have significantly helped reduce wage theft.

Some states and local communities have also used the licensing and contracting processes to their advantage.

In 2015, for instance, Cook County in Illinois took aim at violators of state and federal wage laws, disqualifying them from lucrative county contracts. In 2019, Santa Clara County in California also launched a pilot project that would suspend the licenses of any business for five days if it fails to pay back wages. Before the year’s end, the county suspended eight licenses, mostly from restaurants, and each led to the payment, according to the county’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “Being closed for five days is really bad for a restaurant’s business, so they seek to avoid that,” Gerstein said.

Adopting these approaches “wouldn’t make wage theft disappear in New York, but it would make a difference,” said Rick Blum, staff lawyer at the Legal Aid Society.

Some workers have already lost faith in the Department of Labor — and this includes a young woman named Kirsten, who filed a wage theft claim with the agency in August 2020 against a downtown Manhattan bar that had repeatedly failed to pay her. Kirsten, who requested to be identified by only her middle name to protect her future employment prospects, said she submitted documents and pay stubs. She didn’t hear back for more than a year and a half, until a phone call and letter from an investigator in the spring of 2022 asking her for more information about the case.

To this day, Kirsten said she has not received her back wages and has given up altogether. The agency “has been useless to me,” she said. “It just feels hopeless, like workers are all alone.”

About the Data

Determining the prevalence of wage theft in New York is more complicated than in some other states, including California, Massachusetts and Texas, because its Department of Labor does not make the results of investigations readily available to the public.

Documented filed a public records request for that information in 2019. When the department refused to release it, Documented took the agency to court. The agency has since released to Documented and ProPublica its database containing information on nearly 97,000 cases that began and concluded from 2005 to Feb. 21, 2023. Department of Labor officials told us that they began using this database fully in 2008, so we only analyzed cases from that year onward.

The database provides a number of details on each case, including the names and addresses of businesses that committed the violation, the number of workers who were affected and cited labor law violations.

But the database only provides the dates of when cases began, so we focused most of our analysis on cases from 2017 to 2021.

To determine how many businesses had multiple wage theft cases and still owed back wages, we manually standardized business names and addresses and counted instances in which a company still owed back wages in at least two cases.

To determine the percentage of back wages recovered, we tallied the amount of collected back wages and divided it by the amount of outstanding back wages in all cases contained in the database. Our metric may overestimate the percentage of back wages recovered. In some cases, the recovered amount recorded in the database might also include “liquidated damages,” which are payments for the harm caused by the wage theft and interest. The database does not differentiate between these different types of collected funds. In cases where the recovered amount was greater than the outstanding back wages, we adjusted the recovered amount to equal the outstanding back wages.

The analysis does not take into account the cases reported to the U.S. Department of Labor, which also investigates wage theft in New York but does not make public any database showing how much back wages have been recovered by the agency.


Read the original story in ProPublica: New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages