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October  30, 2008                                                                                         

Employees shortchanged $138,000

Weitzman finds employers of personal health care aides are in violation of Living Wage law

Nassau County lawmakers unanimously passed the Living Wage law in December of 2006, a law aimed at ensuring that employees of Nassau County contractors are earning a decent hourly wage, receiving health benefits or child care benefits or benefits supplement, and entitling them to paid days off. But recent audits by County Comptroller Howard Weitzman have found that employers did not follow the law.Comptroller Weitzman and members of the Living Wage Advisory Board at Press Conference on 10-30-08

"One employer owed his employees over $64,000 for paid days off that were never given and for shortchanging workers on their hourly wage,” said Weitzman. “Another agency underpaid employees by $45,000 because it did not provide paid time off. This law has been in effect since 2007 and ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

The Comptroller joined together today with Living Wage Advisory Board Chairman John Durso and Board members, Nassau County legislators Dave Mejias (D-Farmingdale), Judi Bosworth (D-Great Neck) and others to release the first seven audit reports resulting from the review of home health care agencies that contract with the County.

"We started our Living Wage audits with personal home health care aide contracts because the aides are paid low wages, yet deliver a vital service,” said Comptroller Weitzman.

 "Home health aides care for our sick and aged,” said Legislator Mejias. “They pay taxes, work hard and play by the rules. They deserve to be protected from abusive andunscrupulous employers."

In 2007 the County entered into personal care aid contracts with 35 agencies whose billings to the State totaled approximately $65 million. The audits of seven of these agencies revealed that two owed wages to their employees because wage rates paid were below the mandated rates and all seven agencies failed to fully comply with the law’s requirements for providing compensated days off. All the audits cover the year 2007.

The law, which went into effect in 2007, set hourly wages from $9.50 in 2007, gradually increasing to $12.50 in 2010. Currently, the wage is set at $10.50 with health benefits or $12.05 without benefits. In addition, the law provided for some paid time off, health or child care benefits, or a supplement to the hourly wage at an equivalent value. The Living Wage Law is enforced by the Comptroller’s Living Wage Unit. In 2007 the Comptroller also established the Living Wage Advisory Group, a group of labor union officials and advocates that offer advice on enforcement of the law.

The most egregious of the seven completed audits was the Tender Loving Care Health Care Services, Inc. The audit found that Tender Loving Care Health Care Services, Inc. had not provided the mandatory number of days off for its employees; had not provided the mandated health or child care benefits or equivalent cash; and had underpaid some employees for an entire year by 50 cents an hour.

The audits found:

-Tender Loving Care Health Care Services, Inc. owed employees $64,153 for underpayment of wages and days off.

-Allen Health Care Services, Inc. owed employees by $45,119 for underpayment of days off.

-New York Health Care, Inc. owed employees $6,350 for underpayment of days off.

-Premier Home Health Care Services, Inc owed employees $15,683 for underpayment of wages.

-First Choice Home Care, Inc. owed employees $6,289 for underpayment of days off.

-Aides at Home, Inc-had a policy that did not include a provision to allow employees who completed six months of service to use their time when they wanted to. It also failed to pay employees who were owed less than four hours accrued time.

-Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. understated the time a part time employee was entitled to take off and did not compute accrued leave accurately.

In response to the audits, all agencies stated that they have or would make payment in full to their employees and adjust their policies so that they are in full compliance with the law. The Comptroller’s Office will be conducting follow up audits to see if they have complied. The Comptroller is conducting audits on the remaining personal care agencies that contract with the County and he expects to release the findings over the next few months.

"In 2006, the Nassau County Legislature enacted the Living Wage Law not only to raise the minimum wage of workers in Nassau County, but raise the standards of construction and contracting companies in the county as well,” stated John R. Durso, President of the 250,000-member Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “It became effective January 1, 2007 and since then, Comptroller Weitzman and the Living Wage Unit of his office have monitored, investigated and conducted audits to assure compliance. Out of a set of at least seven audits, five companies were found to be in violation of the County law. No days off, No health benefits, salaries below the minimum wage and on and on. Comptroller Weitzman and his team should be commended for their hard work in ensuring compliance of the County’s laws and the protection of working men and women living on Long Island.”

Lisa Tyson, Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and vice chair of the Advisory Committee, stated: “The Long Island Progressive Coalition fought hard to pass this living wage legislation. In order to protect workers the legislation must be followed by the employers and this report shows that compliance and accountability is essential. We commend the Comptroller’s office in their work on this report.”

"The audit results conducted by the Comptroller’s office have made it abundantly clear why a Living Wage Law was necessary in the first place, “ said Michele Lynch, Long Island Political Director of Service Employees International Union Local 1199. “1199-SEIU, the union of health care workers, recognizes that it isdue to the vigilant efforts of Howard Weitzman’s office that workers will receive their hard-earned salaries and benefits.”

"It is exceptional that Comptroller Weitzman is using his office to protect the interests of working people whose employers are under contract with Nassau County,” said Frank Bail, President of the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union Local 1102. “His audits are resulting in large amounts of money being returned to workers, who in this economy, are desperately in need of help.”

Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth said: “The Living Wage law was an important initiative passed by the Nassau County Legislature in December 2006. Our home health care workers are vital to the well being of some of our most vulnerable residents. They allow those who need assistance to remain in the comfort of their home safely and with dignity. We need to make sure that these hard working care providers are afforded that same element of dignity by earning enough money to maintain a decent quality of life.”

"We should never lose sight of why this law was approved and how important it is for hard-working people to make a living wage,” said Weitzman. “The commitment of the members of the legislature, the labor unions and this office has all resulted in a good thing—protecting workers so that they can earn a decent wage, have some quality of life and the ability to take care of their families.”

If an employer receives a notice of non-compliance from the County, the employer has 30 days to bring its policies into compliance with the law. If the employer fails to comply within those 30 days, the County can fine the employer $500 per week for each employee who is not being paid the proper wages under the law.

For more information on the Living Wage Law visit http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/Comptroller/LivingWage/index.html

Click below for reports:

PDF File Aides at Home

PDF File Allen Health Care

PDF File First Choice Home Care

PDF File New York Health Care

PDF File Premier Health

PDF File Tender Loving Care Health Care Services

PDF File Long Island Care at Home