New York State

Opinion: Paving the way to protecting workers

A look back at how New York has supported its ever-changing workforce.

Vilda Vera Mayuga, commissioner for the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Vilda Vera Mayuga, commissioner for the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. Michael Lanza – Department of Consumer and Worker Protection

No city has led the modern evolution of workers’ rights quite like we have here in New York over the last decade. From offering millions of New Yorkers the right to take Paid Safe and Sick Leave to establishing a Minimum Pay Rate for our city’s more than 60,000 app-based restaurant delivery workers, we have truly paved the way for cities around the nation to expand worker protections.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was a landmark piece of federal legislation that created worker protections we now consider essential, like the right to overtime pay and minimum wage, but despite the legislation’s historic significance, the creation and enforcement of workers’ rights has been led by lower levels of governments, especially in recent years. The workers of today are different from the workers of the 1930s. There are fast food workers – an industry that didn’t exist back then – freelancers, gig workers, small business owners, “solopreneurs,” and more, who can work from anywhere, work remotely and work for multiple employers at once. 

New York City has continually taken bold measures to meet the needs of our ever-changing workforce. In 2014, we at the then-Department of Consumer Affairs took our first steps into protecting the rights of workers when we began enforcing the Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law under one of my predecessors, Council Member Julie Menin. When the law took effect, businesses across the five boroughs lamented that the city’s new law would have disastrous impacts. Adapting to change and implementing innovative policies can be scary, but since then, dozens of other cities and local governments have followed our lead and adopted paid sick leave laws. Study after study shows paid sick leave helps – not hurts – businesses, and sick leave has been essential in keeping our city healthy and saving lives as we weathered the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law now offers more than 3.8 million New Yorkers the legal right to take safe and sick leave for the care and treatment of themselves or a family member.

As our worker protection work grew, our agency grew with it. In 2020, we became the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, codifying us as the city’s central resource for workers to ensure fair treatment in their workplaces. We now enforce a host of worker protection laws – from the Fair Workweek Law, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, and a collection of laws protecting delivery workers, including the first-of-its-kind Minimum Pay Rate for app-based restaurant delivery workers, which has been very successful in raising the wages for our city’s delivery workers. A key piece of protecting workers is ensuring they are aware of their rights, which is why earlier this year, we released an expanded, multilingual Workers’ Bill of Rights. This landmark guide provides a comprehensive overview of the city, state, and federal laws that protect workers and job applicants in New York City.

Across all of the worker protections we enforce, we have closed more than 5,900 investigations, securing nearly $60 million in relief for more than 74,000 workers around the city. And just since the start of the Adams Administration, we have secured more than $38 million in restitution for nearly 30,000 workers. Our resolutions have ranged from getting individual workers who were wrongfully terminated, like Starbucks union organizer Austin Locke, reinstated to their positions with back pay, to company wide settlements with major chains covering all locations in our city – like our groundbreaking settlement with Chipotle, where we secured $20 million for thousands of workers across the five boroughs. And our city’s more than 60,000 app-based restaurant delivery workers are earning $16.3 million more in wages per week thanks to the Minimum Pay Rate, and for the typical delivery worker, that means a raise of more than $14,000 per year.

It has been 10 years since DCWP began offering workers a dedicated voice in government and we are proud of the work we have done to help working New Yorkers realize their rights, but there is always more work to be done. In our ever-evolving economy, we have led the way in adapting to the needs of a modern workforce. We should celebrate the progress we have made together as a city over the last decade while still recognizing that safeguarding fair treatment in our workplaces is a constant effort. 

We strive to create a culture of compliance with our local businesses and the laws we enforce, but we will always hold employers accountable for violating the rights of their workers. Any worker who has questions about their rights or who wishes to file a complaint should visit us online at or call 311.

Vilda Vera Mayuga is the Commissioner for the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

NEXT STORY: Opinion: New York is ending discriminatory insurance practices