Thousands of immigrant workers in New York state are being cheated of wages by employers who don't pay minimum wages or overtime, says a new report.
The report released by immigrant and workers' rights groups led by the Manhattan-based New York Immigration Coalition said the problem was assuming epidemic dimensions.
"The kind of exploitation that goes on... throughout the state is the number one dirty little secret behind the economic success of New York," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "It's really an epidemic problem that we're seeing."
Much of the exploitation takes place in grocery stores, garment factories, restaurants and other businesses that rely on manual labour, according to the report.
"Employers are stealing like bank robbers," Chung-Wha Hong said.
The groups said firm statistics on the number of workers cheated are hard to come by, but one survey determined that 67 percent of domestic workers in New York City received no overtime despite long hours, according to the online edition of Newsday.
Raj Nayak of the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit public policy institute at the New York University School of Law that co-wrote the report, said wage exploitation affects both immigrants and native-born workers.
The groups also criticised New York state's approach to wage enforcement, which they said was ineffective and causing the government to lose millions in tax revenue it would otherwise have collected if employers paid legal wages.
"Collections increased last year by nearly 36 percent, from about $7.5 million to $10.4 million," Robert Lillpopp, a spokesperson for the state labour department said, while defending the agency's handling of unpaid wages.
He said a task force had expanded sweeps of businesses suspected of violating wage laws, and the department had increased outreach to community groups.