WJCNY Celebrates Several Legal Wins

WJCNY’s work reflects our belief that all labor is dignified. No worker deserves to be exploited for their labor despite the economic systems and structures designed to send a message to these workers that they are expendable and their labor invaluable. Yet, their labor is valuable, so valuable that employers are endlessly looking for ways to cheat workers of their wages and their dignity. With every client we serve, WJCNY seeks to elevate the intrinsic value of their labor.

Together with our clients, WJCNY has recently secured successful outcomes for hundreds of individuals in litigation matters involving wage theft, illegal discrimination, violations of the H-2A agricultural guest worker program and substandard farmworker housing. WJCNY continues to place special emphasis on serving NY’s thousands of farmworkers in addition to serving workers all along the food chain, including food processing and food service workers. Across these recent legal victories, WJCNY has secured over $2.5 million to be returned to the pockets of workers during this time of dire economic need among the immigrant communities we serve.


In the case of Cardenas et al. v. A.J. Piedimonte Agricultural Development LLC et al., WJCNY obtained a favorable settlement, including $250,000 in compensation, for 48 former employees of an agricultural and food packaging business in Holley, NY who were illegally denied overtime pay, suffered violation of their rights under the regulations governing the H-2A guest worker program and were subjected to unsafe housing conditions. 

This spring, WJCNY filed the first ever private enforcement action, Mein v. Smith Family Farms et al., alleging overtime wage violations for farmworkers since the passage of the Farm Laborer’s Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019 which gave farmworkers the right to overtime. WJCNY obtained a favorable settlement for a farmworker, including payment of owed overtime pay.

Food Processing Workers:

WJCNY obtained a $1.6 million settlement on behalf of nearly 700 current and former employees of New Windsor-based Café Spice {GCT}, Inc.  The case Corea et al. v. Café Spice {GCT}, Inc. et al. addressed our clients’ rights to compensation for unpaid “off the clock” work, illegal pay deductions, and numerous other alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

Any current or former employees who would like more information about this settlement should contact the Claims Administrator at 844-329-0033. 

Restaurant Workers:

After a drawn-out legal battle, WJCNY obtained a $900,000 settlement for 11 former employees of the Mount Kisco Diner who brought suit for unpaid wages in the case Morales et al. v. Three Diamond Diner Corp. et al. Claims included racial discrimination and illegal retaliation.  This victory was secured by WJCNY’s legal team after the defendants sought to evade their obligations in a bankruptcy proceeding. 


WJCNY Sues Akima Global Services for Labor Violations at Buffalo Federal Detention Center

WJCNY has filed suit in New York’s Supreme Court against the private, for-profit company, Akima Global Services (AGS), for its exploitation of detained immigrants at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, NY. Plaintiffs Bounam Phimasone and Dalila Yeend allege that, while detained, they were hired by AGS to perform manual labor in the facility. Instead of wages, AGS paid Mr. Phimasone and Ms. Yeend $1 per day in commissary credit, regardless of hours worked.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday afternoon, alleges that AGS’s practice of crediting detainees one dollar per day for many hours of labor violates the New York State Constitution and various provisions of the Labor Law, including minimum wage. It also alleges that AGS unjustly enriched itself through this exploitative practice. AGS contracts with the federal government to operate the Buffalo Federal Detention Center and is paid a daily rate for each bed filled per day. By requiring detainee-employees to perform essential functions at well below the legal minimum wage, AGS avoids hiring non-detained employees to work for fair market wages, thereby depressing the local economy and increasing its own profits.

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Farmworkers & Advocates Call for Legislative Action to Protect Essential Workers

On Tuesday, August 11th, farmworkers and advocates from across New York State convened a day of action and virtual press conference, calling on the state legislature to protect farmworkers and all essential workers from future waves of COVID-19. Coinciding with the day of action, the Times Union ran an opinion piece authored by WJCNY's Director of Advocacy, Outreach and Education on Why farmworkers need basic COVID protections.


Watch the full press conference here:


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WJCNY Legal Victory Recoups $900,000 in Unpaid Wages for Former Mt. Kisco Diner Employees

WJCNY has won a major legal victory, securing $900,000 in unpaid wages for former employees of the Mt. Kisco Diner.

On top of the wages owed, the diner will owe 10 percent interest which has accrued since March 10. 

“This case should send a clear message that exploiting workers is not only unjust, but also a losing business proposition,” said Maureen Hussain, WJCNY labor and employment attorney.

“Mt. Kisco Diner’s owners are now required to get anti-discrimination training and allow periodic inspections of their records by the Worker Justice Center of New York,” Hussain added. “Our clients hope this will help ensure the company changes its practices and treats its employees fairly.”

WJCNY filed the class action labor violations lawsuit against Mt. Kisco Diner’s owners in April. According to the lawsuit, the diner’s owners violated the minimum wage, overtime, tip credit and unlawful deductions provisions of the federal Fair Labor Stands Act

Read more in the Journal News.

This victory was possible because of the generosity of our supporters and grants from The New York Bar Foundation and the Westchester Community Foundation.

Statement of the WJCNY Board of Directors on Black Lives Matter

WJCNY stands in unqualified solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Our mission demands that we embrace the nationwide movement that has coalesced in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd. Racial justice and freedom from violence (whether interpersonal or state-sanctioned) are core commitments that WJCNY is bound to uphold at every level of the organization, in both our public-facing work as well as internally.

Release of COVID-19 Guidelines for Agriculture Marks Progress, but New York Lawmakers Must Do More

After months of calling on Governor Cuomo and New York State lawmakers to take immediate action to protect farmworkers from COVID-19, we are pleased to share the news that NY's Department of Health, Department of Labor, and Department of Agriculture & Markets have finally released guidance documents aimed at addressing the threat COVID-19 presents to our state's farmworkers and their families. 

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WJCNY Opinion: Green Empire Farms COVID-19 Outbreak Shows NY Fails to Protect Farmworkers

The Syracuse Post-Standard recently published an op-ed on the coronavirus outbreak among greenhouse workers in Central New York which was co-written by WJCNY Advocacy Director Emma Kreyche.

The latest testing showed 169 of Green Empire Farms’ 250 workers tested positive for COVID-19. When those workers arrived to work in the company’s greenhouses in December, the housing which was planned onsite had not been built, so they were crammed into local hotels.

When workers living in the hotels contracted the disease, it spread rapidly in the overcrowded, communal spaces.

The fast infection rate highlighted the state’s failure to protect these and other vulnerable workers from the coronavirus, as well as abusive and negligent employers.

The state Public Health Law requires employers secure a permit for operating migrant housing facilities. However, they often use hotels for housing workers instead.

We at WJCNY, along with local farmworkers, have for months been warning state officials that the often unsanitary conditions migrant and seasonal workers are pushed into by employers could provide the perfect conditions for COVID-19 to spread.


We are asking Governor Cuomo for immediate emergency health and safety regulations for agricultural operations, and to ensure farmworkers can access proper quarantine housing if they are infected or have been exposed to the virus.

Read the op-ed here: https://www.syracuse.com/opinion/2020/05/green-empire-farms-outbreak-shows-ny-fails-to-protect-farmworkers-commentary.html


Photo: N. Scott Trimble, Syracuse.com


First-Ever NY Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act Lawsuit Launched!

The Worker Justice Center of New York has filed the first lawsuit of its kind over unpaid overtime wages against Wayne County-based Smith Family Farms and Smith Family Acres. The complaint alleges that the agricultural employer violated the recently enacted Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act.

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Action Alert! Sign our Petition Today

We are calling on Governor Cuomo and New York State lawmakers to take immediate action to protect farmworkers from COVID-19 and support those who have already been impacted. The agricultural workforce is essential to New York’s economy and to the security of our food supply, yet farmworkers remain unprotected and vulnerable to both infection and extreme economic hardship resulting from the coronavirus.

Sign our petition today! 

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Honoring our Essential Workers After International Workers’ Day

By: John Marsella, Senior Staff Attorney

In another week filled with news of the global pandemic, it would have been easy to overlook May 1 as just another day in quarantine. However, stopping to recognize the significance of International Workers’ Day is as important during the COVID-19 outbreak as it has ever been.

The celebration of the working classes dates to May of 1886, when members of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions gathered in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to strike and demand an eight-hour workday.

The event began as a peaceful rally, but it ended with violence. A bomb killed several police officers and civilians. Labor activists, immigrants and union sympathizers were arrested and interrogated. The ensuing trial was widely considered a sham, and seven individuals were convicted and sentenced to death.

The hysteria surrounding the event and government-backed repression invigorated people who sought to advance workplace justice. The Haymarket Riot inspired the creation of International Workers’ Day, a day for laborers to band together and seek better working conditions.

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