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New York shields undocumented workers involved in workplace labor probes

Pedestrians pass a New York State Department of Labor office June 11 in Queens. The Federal Reserve expects the U.S. unemployment rate to still be more than 9% by the end of 2020.
Frank Franklin II
Pedestrians pass a New York State Department of Labor office.

New York regulators have updated the process that shields undocumented workers from retaliation and termination during labor disputes. It is an expansion of federal protections put in place by the Biden administration earlier this year.

The goal is to help guide undocumented workers to report employer misconduct if they are threatened with removal or other forms of retaliation.

“Fear of retaliation is paralyzing for any worker, but it is especially dreadful for immigrants,” State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement. “We investigate all complaints, regardless of immigration status. We believe that all workers have rights in every workplace across New York state.”

The state Department of Labor works with the federal Department of Homeland Security to help these workers to gain temporary protection while their employers are under investigation.

Undocumented workers involved in workplace labor investigations may submit, or have an advocate or attorney submit on their behalf, a “Statement of Interest” request to the state to investigate misconduct. “If any worker is a victim of or a witness to labor violations, please report it to us. We can help,” Reardon said.

Another request would be reviewed by federal authorities to grant the worker at least a two-year stay from removal.

New York has initiated almost three dozen investigations since the launch of this process this year, impacting more than 100 workers.

The state already protects workers from threats to report their immigration status. Since May, Governor Kathy Hochul has asked the federal government to expedite work authorization for a wave of asylum seekers arriving in New York.

However, the busloads of migrants sent from New York City to the suburbs have not materialized. Advocates are concerned Latino workers will be targeted by migrant bans ordered in more than a dozen New York counties, cities and states.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.