NEW YORK (TIP): Complaints about shady job agencies – which often target low-wage immigrants – have nearly tripled in the city, a new report found.
Grievances made to the city Department of Consumer Affairs spiked from 328 in 2013 to 940 last year, according to data set to be released Thursday by state Senators Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino, Assemblyman Francisco Moya and a non-profit campaign called Justice for Job Seekers.
Reported problems were most common in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of north-central Queens and in parts of the Bronx.
Maritza Daza said she found work at a hair salon through an agency on Ave. U in Brooklyn – but ended up handing over a full week’s salary of $350 plus a $20 registration fee.
“It really hurt me, to pay that much money,” Daza told the News. She said she’s often scheduled for just two or three days a week, instead of the full time job the agency promised. Hunting for a job along Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, Rosa Pauta paid $125 upfront to an employment agent who promised her work at a laundromat, according to testimony included in the report. But when she went to the laundromat’s address, the owner turned her away saying he had no positions available.
The agency refused to refund the fee, Pauta told researchers.
The practice is illegal – but all too common. Undercover volunteers posing as job hunters also visited dozens of employment agencies for the study and found that at nearly 40%, agents charged a non-refundable advance fee, flouting state law. Fees averaged $128.75, according to the report. The results of the research were “quite startling,” said Klein (D-Bronx).
“Employment agencies are referring prospective employees to employers that have no job openings,” he said. “They have no recourse in getting their money back. Clearly, the law needs to be updated.” Agencies can charge advance fees for certain types of workers – including nannies and construction laborers -but are legally required to fully reimburse clients if they don’t get a job. Nearly three quarters of the 39 agencies visited by volunteers did not offer a contract, which is required by law, and almost half illegally promised a “guaranteed” job placement. Klein, Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and Moya (D-Queens) have introduced bills in the Senate and Assembly that would get rid of the loophole that allows employment agencies to charge some job seekers up front and boost fines from $500 per violation to $1000. “If you’re a low wage worker or an immigrant, it doesn’t mean you should have a target on your back when you look for employment,” said Moya.