Local 79 Fights the Criminalization of Laborers

On April 19, 2021, NELP testified in strong support of New York Laborers Local 79’s campaign to challenge labor broker practices that target New Yorkers under parole supervision (and other forms of court-related surveillance) for underpaid and dangerous work. These labor brokers are known in New York City as “body shops.” Local 79 is organizing to demand that New York City regulate and license body shops to stop the exploitation of formerly incarcerated and court-surveilled workers.  

New York parole and other court-surveillance structures regularly require seeking and maintaining work as a condition of staying out of jail (along with daily curfews that limit access to work and a ban on participation in labor protests). NELP’s concern with body shops and other similarly unregulated labor brokers is that they combine and exacerbate 1. the criminal legal system’s targeting of Black and Latinx New Yorkers under bloated systems of punishment and surveillance, and 2. labor brokers’ sorting of Black and Latinx workers into second-tier temporary, lower-wage, unsafe work without benefits 

These body shop practices ultimately expand the criminalization of workersin which employers consider court-involvement – in this case parole – to indicate a worker deserves less at work, and in which the criminal legal system views underemployment and unemployment as justification for reincarceration. As social movements challenging mass incarceration and criminalization continue to grow, NELP is especially concerned that court-surveilled work under the threat of jail is championed by some as meaningful reform and not recognized for what it is: expanding a vulnerable workforce by locking workers of color into long cycles of underpaid, unstable work and jail.  

Requiring transparency, registration, and greater reporting (including disclosure of hourly wage and benefits, demographics of workers, and worker classification) from opaque and unregulated body shops and labor brokers – as Local 79 demands – is a modest but important common-sense first step towards dismantling structural racism built into both the criminal legal system and the labor market. 

 Download the testimony to read more. 

Related to

About the Authors

Han Lu

Areas of expertise:
  • Criminal Records & Employment,
  • Workplace Equity

Laura Padin

Areas of expertise:
  • Enforcement of Workplace Standards,
  • Nonstandard Workforce

Related Resources

All resources