N.Y. Governor Announces Initiatives To Strengthen Worker Rights

Gov. Eliot Spitzer yesterday delivered remarks at the Long Island Federation of Labor's 17th Constitutional Convention, discussing initiatives his administration is undertaking to support the economic security of working New Yorkers and their families. He announced a thorough review of apprenticeship programs and highlighted the new efforts of the Department of Labor (DOL).

Effective immediately, the DOL is suspending the development and approval of apprenticeship training programs in all trades. The addition of new participating employers to existing programs is also being suspended. This action is being taken in an effort to overhaul the state's apprenticeship training programs, which have been diverted from its initial purpose, Spitzer says.

The state program is supposed to allow employers or unions to provide workers with the essential skills necessary to practice their trade through hands-on work and classroom lessons, but a cursory review of the program revealed an unusually low graduation rate. Many programs were found to not graduate apprentices so as to keep them as a cheaper form of labor.

During this moratorium, which will last up to one year, DOL will undertake a comprehensive analysis of the procedure by which the state reviews apprenticeship programs and the performance of individual programs.

In an effort to overhaul its enforcement practices, DOL is also creating new methods to enforce workers' rights more aggressively and proactively by establishing the Bureau of Immigrant Workers' Rights. Ten new bilingual investigators will be hired to help ferret out the most egregious labor law violations throughout the state.

"As Labor Day approaches, we are reminded that every step forward for working families over the last 100 years--from the right to unionize, to workers' compensation to prevailing wage and labor law enforcement--came about with the support and leadership of this state's great labor movement," Spitzer said.

DOL Commissioner Patricia Smith said: "As we near Labor Day, let us reflect on the great contributions organized labor unions have made in the past and continue to make today for the betterment of our state's most vital asset--our workers."

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