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Statement on Protecting Workers' Rights Through Labor Law Enforcement

Employment

Statement on Protecting Workers' Rights Through Labor Law Enforcement

Date Posted: 
04/30/2019

The following statement was delivered by CLS attorney Seth Lyons at an event at Philadelphia City Hall on April 30, 2019.

My name is Seth Lyons, I’m an attorney at Community Legal Services, and we are here to demand more resources for enforcement of the City’s labor laws.  We represent low wage workers every day, so we know how often our labor laws are violated, and how far we still need to go to fulfill the promises this city has made to its workers.  We work with people who are denied sick days, whose hard earned wages are stolen from them, and who are routinely denied jobs because of old and minor criminal records. This is all in spite of the anti-poverty measures passed in recent years that are meant to protect people against this type of exploitation.

Unfortunately, these laws do not work on their own. Most workers still don’t even know they exist. We need robust outreach and enforcement to make sure people know their rights— and how to protect those rights—and to make sure that employers get the message that no longer can they get away with exploiting their workers.

Just as importantly, we need to make sure that workers feel safe coming forward. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to these workplace abuses, and particularly fearful of reporting them. For every client we see, we know there are 4 or 5 other workers who are afraid to come forward. We hear this from our clients every day. Just last week, I spoke with a worker at a popular restaurant who says the restaurant has been underpaying their workers for years—refusing to pay overtime or simply taking money from workers’ paychecks without explanation—but he only decided to do something about it once he left the restaurant. His former coworkers, who are mostly undocumented, are too scared to make a complaint.

We know what works: the best way to confront this problem is through targeted outreach to the City’s most vulnerable populations so they know their rights and where to go, and by showing workers that if they are brave enough to come forward, the City will have their back, no matter their immigration status, or how powerful the employer is.

But this takes resources. We’ve seen the improvement with the Office of Labor over the last few months under new leadership. The office is getting better and stronger, but right now is an important time to make sure they have the resources they need as they grow and prepare to implement new laws, like fair workweek. As the Office has gotten better, we’ve filed more complaints and have encouraged more people to file on their own. They need more staff and funding to keep up with the increased demand. Workers who take a chance and stand up for themselves by filing a complaint deserve a strong, fully funded ally at the City. We are committed to making sure that Philadelphia does right by low wage workers.