The steps leading to the Queens Public Library in Flushing were overflowing with protesters Wednesday demanding an end to the 24-hour workday and accountability from their employer, CPC — prompting a stern denial from the organization.
Led by the Ain’t I a Woman?! Campaign, advocates, elected officials, and workers—who say they have long suffered mistreatment—gathered on the afternoon of Jan. 12 in response to a report on the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC) filed by Assemblymember Ron Kim. The 103-page memo filed on Jan. 4 accuses the service provider of excessive wage theft at the expense of its 4,500 home health aides in New York City, among other abuses.
On Wednesday these workers assembled to thank Kim for the exposé and to demand that CPC be held responsible while also requesting for retroactive wage repayment.
One worker by the name of Gui Zhu Chen alleged that she was threatened by the CPC for requesting that she be paid for working night shifts in what she called a 24-hour workday.
“CPC threatened me, saying that this is not true,” Chen said with the help of a translator, adding that she was warned to stop pursing the matter or CPC would have are arrested. “‘You are extorting the government and I will sue you and put you in jail,'” Chen said she was told. She also explained that CPC stated that they had no intention of paying her what she was owed.
CPC released a statement, denying the accusations in a scathing statement.
“(CPC) has no choice but to point out the lies, untruths, and distortions that are being said by the Ain’t I a Woman Campaign and Assembly Member Ron Kim about its subsidiary Chinese-American Planning Council Home Attendant Program Inc. (CPCHAP) in the provision of critical, life-saving home care services to Medicaid patients, who cannot afford such services otherwise. CPCHAP has no choice but to provide home care by following New York State Medicaid rules and requirements, as well as Department of Labor laws, court decisions, and union agreements. We have long called for the State to replace 24-hour home care cases with two 12-hour split shifts, which would be best for both workers and patients. This requires changes to State labor law and Medicaid funding rates,” part of the statement read.
The organization also added that home care agencies do not have the authority to end 24-hour work day and they are committed to “doing right by our workers.”
Brandishing signs and chanting, many in attendance felt that CPC is taking advantage of a workforce who are not native English speakers, turning them their workplace into an American sweatshop. In addition, advocates state the organization exploits this group of vulnerable immigrant workers by gaslighting them, manipulating them, and outright threatening them despite their back-to-back shifts.
“I’m so sorry for the workers who are standing here with us and the thousands of other workers who couldn’t be here with us for what you went through for the last several years,” Assemblymember Kim said. “I’m sorry that I don’t have enough power to make this go away today and hold CPC accountable. But I promise that this is just the beginning, I’m not going away, and we will hold the CPC accountable.”
The Ain’t I a Woman Campaign estimates about $90 million in stolen wages just from the unpaid 24-hour shifts (not including overtime).
“We want the CPC to settle wages and we want to make sure that we don’t have an organization that commits wage theft,” Kim added.
In response to this, CPC said they were surprised to learn about the report through the media.
“We would have preferred to have this conversation directly with his office, but we are forced to respond in public. We will fully respond to the report after we have had the opportunity to review it. In the meantime, we encourage elected officials, advocates, providers, workers, and patients to ask themselves and to ask Assembly Member Kim the following questions,” the statement read.
Questions for Kim from CPC include:
“Why did he release a report without fact checking with us or reaching out to discuss these issues?” and “Why has he not taken action or responded when we have requested his help converting our 24-hour cases into 12-hour split shifts?”