Report: Low-income workers suffer wage-theft in WNY

Posted at 7:36 PM, Apr 13, 2018

A startling new report shows there is a group of low-wage workers in Buffalo whose legal rights are being violated by their employers.

On Friday, the Partnership for the Public Good and Open Buffalo released the report at the Buffalo Public Library as part of Buffalo Poverty Research Workshop.

Researchers surveyed 213 workers in Buffalo and found that nearly 59 percent of all low-wage workers reported at least one wage and hour violation. 

In particular, among low-wage workers participating in the survey:

  • 16% reported making below the applicable federal or state minimum wage;
  • 35% reported not being paid overtime in violation of federal or state law;
  • 16% reported working off the clock without being paid;
  • 27% reported that they had failed to receive their pay on time;
  • 24% of low-wage workers making tips reported that their employer had taken some of their tips in violation of federal or state law.

In addition, 56 percent of low-wage worker surveyed reported at least one potential health and safety violation:

  • 33.3% of low-wage workers who reported handling dangerous materials or operating dangerous equipment as part of their jobs reported that their employer did not provide adequate safety or protective gear; and 26.7% reported not being properly trained to avoid accident or injury;
  • 21.6% of low-wage workers who complained about their pay or working conditions to their employer reported being retaliated against.

The author of the report is a lawyer who has worked with low-income workers for a decade. She says she conducted this survey to have tangible proof of workplace abuses happening right here in Western New York.

"We do have federal and state laws that are supposed to ensure that people are not being exploited, but in many cases those laws are not being complied with" said Nicole Hallett, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

"What I'm calling on is for the City of Buffalo and for Erie County to take an active role in ensuring that their citizens and residents are getting paid appropriately and that their employers are following the law, and that people in Buffalo have the opportunity to have gainful employment that is safe, where they get paid what they're supposed to and which means they don't have to live on the brink of poverty," Hallett said.

You can read the full report here.