By Madina Toure
Two Queens workers centers have launched a wage theft clinic to help employees in the borough get back money owed to them.
The Flushing Workers Center, located on the second floor at 36-38 Union St., and Jornaleros Unidos (Day Laborers United), which started in Woodside, will be running the wage theft clinic at the Flushing site.
The clinic wants to encourage workers who are owed money from their employers to come forward and get assistance.
“We have the benefit of being a workers’ organization,” Sarah Ahn, an organizer with the Flushing Workers Center, said. “We could take things to the streets. We could go and kind of expose these employers who don’t pay their workers in their communities, kind of shame them.”
The clinic will be open during the center’s hours on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Individuals are encouraged to call in advance to set up an appointment that works with their schedules.
The clinic will also have drop-in hours on Tuesdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Services will be available in Spanish, Chinese and Korean, but the clinic will seek out accommodations for individuals who speak other languages.
On July 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new statewide task force to deal with worker exploitation issues in multiple industries in the state.
The task force consists of 10 state agencies, including the Department of State, the Labor Department and the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Workers file claims with the Labor Department, but oftentimes their cases are closed and dismissed, according to Ahn.
Ahn said during appointments with workers, one or two volunteers with the organization would get information about the employee’s situation and then refer him or her to agencies with which the center partners, including state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, the Labor Department and other legal services.
The center is part of the Coalition for Real Minimum Wage Increase, which found that the Labor Department had 14,000 cases in backlog but an audit by the state comptroller said it was more than 17,000 cases.
“In light of all of this, we feel that workers are discouraged, they don’t feel that there’s much that could happen even if they do go to the Department of Labor,” Ahn said. “We felt that it was important to launch this clinic and get the word out that there’s other steps they can do, other ways they can go about getting the money they are owed.”
Roberto Meneses, president of Jornaleros Unidos, said the clinic will help workers to get their claims resolved.
“We are trying to collect all cases the workers have in the Department of Labor so they can resolve their claims,” Meneses said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour