weeks ago, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer announced settlements
with five employment agencies that referred workers routinely
to jobs that paid less than the state’s minimum wage. The
workers involved were primarily immigrants from Latin America
seeking employment assistance from agencies within Manhattan
and Queens. The settlements were a result of an ongoing investigation,
led by the attorney general’s Labor Bureau.
New York state law prohibits employment agencies from referring
people to jobs that pay below $5.15 per hour or jobs that
do not pay overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.
The agencies in question were also charging inflated “advance
fees,” or employment agency deposits, a practice that violates
New York state law. The investigation found that the agencies
charged referred more than half of their workers, in one case
87 percent, to jobs paying below minimum wage. Most of the
agencies also violated the state’s human rights law by asking
about origin, age, sex, and/or marital status.
Three agencies included in the settlement—JR, Rojas, and Alma—are
allowed to continue to do business pending their compliance
with the attorney general’s office. They also agreed to pay
penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 and inform employers
that they will no longer be referring applicants to illegal
jobs. Agencies Doumi and HD both agreed to cease operations
and pay a fine. All agencies will return any money illegally
charged to the applicants in question.
Individual lawsuits have been filed against four additional
agencies. The applicants pressing charges are seeking civil
penalties ranging from $54,000 to $310,000. Maritere Arce,
a representative from Spitzer’s New York City office, stresses
that this is not an isolated incident. “It’s a widespread
industry practice. We’ve noticed a pattern and are leading
an ongoing investigation throughout the state,” she said.
Arce also stressed that investigations depend on complaints
made to the attorney general’s Labor Bureau, which can be
reached at (212) 416-8700 or (800) 771-7755.
to a recent national study, the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area
is one of the most secure places to live in the United States.
The study, which was conducted by the Farmers Insurance Group,
considered the risks of natural disaster, job loss, and crime
statistics in more than 200 metropolitan areas. The Capital
Region ranked fifth in the survey, thanks to its low risk
of natural disasters, and the presence of state government,
which supplies job security to area residents.
While some Albany residents who worry about crime in the city
said they were confused as to why this area would rank so
high, others agree with the positive rankings. Debi Martino,
a lifetime Albany resident, says that she’s never had problems
with crime. “I feel safe living and working [in this city],”
The Albany-Troy-Schenectady area was also ranked last fall
as the least stressful metropolitan area in the country for
many of the same reasons that it ranked so high in the contest
for most secure place. The survey was conducted by the database
experts at www.best places.net, who describe the attractiveness
of the Capital Region in terms of its comparatively low suicide
rates, low commute time and, again, the abundance of state
jobs to keep the unemployment rate low.
Statistics were gathered from various agencies, including
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
the National Climatic Data Center, and the FBI Uniform Crime
Cities were ranked on a scale of 1 to 100, while categories
considered more important, like crime rates and job security,
weighed in more heavily than others.
Nearby Dutchess County ranked second as the most secure place
to live with its low crime and low unemployment.
Worse Than You Think
FBI documents recently obtained by the American Civil Liberties
Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center through
the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the government’s
law-enforcement powers under a provision of the USA Patriot
Act are broader than previously known. The FBI papers show
that the bureau may use Section 215 of the controversial act
to, among other things, investigate a U.S. citizen partly
on the basis of First Amendment activities without any suspicion
of a crime, and obtain the business records of an innocent
person having a relationship to a terrorist suspect. Further
details of the ACLU/EPIC findings can be read on the EPIC
Web site at www.epic.org/ alert/EPIC_Alert_11.12.html, and
the documents themselves may be downloaded in PDF format from
the ACLU’s Web site at www.aclu.org/patriotfoia.
Renewing Interest in Renewables
businessmen and advo-cacy groups offered up their opinions
on the state’s renewable energy practices last week, concluding
a series of public forums arranged by the New York State Department
of Public Services.
The eight forums, which were held throughout the state, were
provided by the NYSDPS in order to gather input on a state
plan that would increase New York’s use of renewable energy.
The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, an initiative recently
issued by the NYSDPS, calls for renewable resources to provide
25 percent of the state’s electricity by 2013 instead of the
current 19 percent.
While public opinion generally favored both the plan and the
public forum, several questions were raised regarding which
resources qualified under the plan’s guidelines. Currently,
NYSDPS considers wind, solar, tidal, fuel cells and select
hydroelectric, biomass and biogas resources as acceptable
forms of renewable energy. Several individuals addressed the
use of municipal waste as a renewable resource. While the
burning of solid waste is not an eligible resource, the initiative
left the option open for future consideration.
Jason K. Babbie of the New York Public Interest Research Group
argued that the burning of municipal waste for electricity
would “trash” an otherwise beneficial plan.
Several businesses questioned the cost efficiency of increasing
the use of renewable energy.
The NYSDPS identified three plans for achieving the agency’s
energy goals with differing mixes of renewables. Each plan
focuses upon either consumer cost, environmental concerns
or a general balance between the two. While the criteria and
aggressiveness of the methods differ, each has a target date
of 2013 for the state to reach the 25-percent goal.
June 10, a lawsuit was filed by the grassroots wildlife preservation
group Save the Pine Bush against the town of Clifton Park
Planning Board. In the lawsuit, Save the Pine Bush alleges
Clifton Park did not fully consider the presence of a Karner
Blue butterfly habitat when it passed a soil disturbance permit
for land along Wood Road in April, and therefore did not follow
the guidelines of the State Environmental Quality Review Act
(SEQRA). According to SEQRA, an environmental impact statement
must be completed when an action is proposed to the town’s
planning commission. The town then uses the EIS in making
its decision. In the case of the lawsuit, no EIS was completed
and the town did not demand one.
The piece of land in question has a butterfly habitat that
has been documented since the 1970s. However, the owners of
the land, DCG Development Company, stopped allowing New York
state Department of Environmental Conservation scientists
on the property in 1997. Though it is unclear what the company’s
long-term plans are with the property, they allegedly wish
to flatten the land. Save the Pine Bush claims the habitat
is being destroyed.
seems tragic that habitats of endangered species would not
be considered a priority for the town,” said ecological planning
advocate and Clifton Park resident William Engelman. The butterfly,
often associated with the Albany Pine Bush, is a state and
federally endangered species. Entire populations of the butterfly
have become extinct in states such as New Hampshire and Ohio,
mainly due to habitat fragmentation and destruction. In the
early 1990s, the Clifton Park Town Planning Board issued findings
based on a generic environmental impact statement that declared
there were to be no disturbances to Karner Blue habitats in
confident that the appropriate policies and procedures were
followed when reviewing the application,” said Jason Kemper,
Clifton Park director of planning, in response to lawsuit.
“To my knowledge, Save the Pine Bush has not commented on
a project being reviewed by the town of Clifton Park [in the
four years] I’ve been here.”