BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
With its expansive and dense immigrant populations, Queens has been particularly vulnerable to fraudulent employment agencies throughout the recession.
These agencies exploit low-wage workers, charging fees and rendering poor services or none at all. Last week, Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) introduced new legislation aimed at cracking down on these practices.
According to a report by New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) and the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, western Queens and Roosevelt Avenue specifically are rife with agencies tailored to entrap Latin Americans seeking work. For example, they distribute flyers using terms such as notario, fundación or missión to falsely suggest a charitable purpose.
NICE also reported that 81 percent of surveyed job seekers who did not find a job through an agency were still charged a fee. Almost 25 percent of agencies visited in the area did not have a Department of Consumer Affairs license visibly posted.
“Currently, the structured law allows agencies to charge low-wage workers a fee before placing them in a job, while other types of workers pay a fee only after they receive payment,” Moya said. “So the proposed law would bring rules governing advance fees for Class A and Class A1 workers in line with those governing all other workers as well.”
Class A workers conduct domestic or household labor, and Class A1 workers are non-professional trained or skilled industrial laborers or mechanics.
The law would also require agencies to draw up contracts with their customers, specifying employment details including work hours.
Maria de Fatima Mosconi is a 60-year-old Queens resident who recently fell victim to a fraudulent employment agency.
Mosconi was given stacks of paperwork to sign, some of which she could not read well, but she was anxious to sign all of it.
“You just want to get a job and get over with it,” she said.
The agency – which never gave her their official name and has moved offices since she last contacted them – sent her to work for an elderly man in Great Neck. Mosconi said that after two weeks she realized the responsibilities of senior care were too great, and required a trained nurse.
“I went back to the agency [and] they went through one week of my salary,” she said. “I told them I needed that money, I couldn’t give one week, I told them it’s not fair. I didn’t pay them and they blacklisted me.”
Mosconi said she has several friends who have lost time and money to fraudulent employment agencies. Most often, she hears of agencies sending five or more people to a jobsite – taking fees from all of them – knowing that there is only one opening, or that the job has already been filled.
“This [legislation] is just a great step in ensuring that we’re protecting the folks in my community and throughout the state that are really vulnerable right now,” Moya said. “They’re desperate for work, they’ll take anything. So this is one of way of eradicating these labor sharks that are taking advantage of consumers that are seeking employment.”
In a statement released last month, Public Advocate Letitia James offered her support of the legislation.
“Many New Yorkers are feeling the impact of the Great Recession,” she said. “It is important that we protect job seekers and end the exploitative practices at some employment agencies that take advantage of immigrant workers. I urge the New York State legislature to pass Assemblyman Moya’s bill and end this predatory behavior.”
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.