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Workers on the Brink: Low-Wage Employment in Buffalo and Erie County

Date: Apr 12, 2018
Author(s): Nicole Hallett
Topic(s): Economic Development: Economic Conditions, Economic Development: Policies and Programs, Poverty / Income Inequality: Economic Inequality, Poverty / Income Inequality: Exploitative Businesses, Poverty / Income Inequality: Low-Wage Work
Type: Report

In 2017, Professor Hallett, winner of a public research fellowship from Open Buffalo and PPG, conducted a survey of 213 workers in Buffalo to learn more about the challenges they are facing. 

The survey found that local low-wage workers experience high rates of legal violations. In all, 58.9% of low-wage workers reported at least one wage and hour violation, and 56% reported at least one potential health and safety violation. In particular, among low-wage workers participating in the survey:

·    16% reported making below the applicable federal or state minimum wage;

·    35% reported not being paid overtime in violation of federal or state law;

·    16% reported working off the clock without being paid;

·    27% reported that they had failed to receive their pay on time;

·    24% of low-wage workers making tips reported that their employer had taken some of their tips in violation of federal or state law;

·    33.3% of low-wage workers who reported handling dangerous materials or operating dangerous equipment as part of their jobs reported that their employer did not provide adequate safety or protective gear; and 26.7% reported not being properly trained to avoid accident or injury;

·    21.6% of low-wage workers who complained about their pay or working conditions to their employer reported being retaliated against.

The survey revealed clear differences based on gender, race/ethnicity, and citizenship status. Women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and non-citizens reported higher violation rates in response to most questions.

The report’s recommendations include:

·         The City of Buffalo and Erie County should:

o    pass wage theft ordinances that penalizes employers who do not pay their workers.

o    pass laws that require employers to provide paid sick leave.

o    refrain from doing business with companies that have bad health and safety records.

·         The Buffalo Police Department and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office should treat wage theft as a crime.

·         Buffalo should raise its living wage rate to $15 per hour.

·         Erie County should pass a living wage law, requiring companies that do business with the County to pay a living wage of $15 per hour.