Workers’ rights advocates are applauding the Biden administration this week for filing a historic lawsuit against a Brooklyn-based healthcare staffing agency for coercive contracts that allegedly violate federal labor law.
Biden’s Department of Labor (DOL) says in a complaint filed against Advanced Care Staffing (ACS) and CEO Sam Klein in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that “in flagrant disregard” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the company “has entered into contracts purporting to require employees to complete at least three years of full-time work for ACS in order to retain their wages.”
“The contracts warn employees that if they leave ACS’s employ before three years’ time, they will face ACS and its lawyers in an arbitration behind closed doors, where ACS will demand that employees kick back much of their hard-earned wages—including wages to which they are entitled under federal law,” the complaint continues.
“Under this scheme, the pay that ACS promises its employees may be converted into nothing more than a loan that employees must repay with interest and fees, leaving some employees with no compensation at all, much less the wages required by the FLSA,” the document adds. “The FLSA prohibits an employer from holding employees’ wages hostage, allowing employees to keep their wages free and clear only if employees remain in the service of their employer.”
The DOL, led by acting Secretary Julie Su, aims not only to end this “unlawful conduct” but also “to recover unpaid wages and liquidated damages due to the former employees from whom ACS has already initiated arbitrations, and to restrain defendants from withholding unpaid wages from their former employees.”
Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda reiterated in a statement Monday that “federal law forbids employers from clawing back wages earned by employees, for employers’ own benefit.”
“Employers cannot use workers as insurance policies to unconditionally guarantee future profit streams. Nor can employers use arbitration agreements to shield unlawful practices,” Nanda said. “The Department of Labor will do everything in its power to make sure employees are being paid their hard-earned wages, and to safeguard them from these types of exploitative practices.”
Celebrating the new case against ACS, Towards Justice executive director David Seligman declared Tuesday that “DOL’s action against predatory stay-or-pay contracts sends a monumental message to employers: Obey the law or face repercussions.”
“A fundamental premise of our labor laws is that employers pay workers, and not the other way around,” said Seligman. “This lawsuit builds on a multiagency effort from the Biden administration to curb coercive contracts that rob workers of bargaining power. We look forward to what’s next.”
The DOL complaint states that ACS’s arbitration and contract demands “have an impermissible chilling effect on their employees’ ability to effectively vindicate their federal statutory rights, including the protection to be free from an unsafe or hazardous workplace, and to obtain unpaid wages due.”
Originally published at Commondreams.org.