Interviews & Profiles

Helping freelancers with taxes and bolstering rights in the workplace

A Q&A with Vilda Vera Mayuga, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Vilda Vera Mayuga is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Vilda Vera Mayuga is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection

Before Vilda Vera Mayuga was appointed commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection in early 2022, she held a number of notable positions in state government, including deputy secretary for economic opportunity at New York’s Department of State, chair of the state Industrial Board of Appeals and deputy commissioner for worker protection at the state Department of Labor. In an interview with City & State, Mayuga discussed what she has accomplished in her current role as well as her priorities for the year, both in the New York City Council and in the state Legislature.

What were your biggest accomplishments over the past year leading the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection?

The team here amazes me all the time. I can tell you hands down finally getting a dignified pay raise for restaurant delivery workers is huge. It’s the first of its kind, a minimum pay wage for Uber and DoorDash workers at $17.96 per hour not including tips. It will continue to go up every year. The next phase-in is April. In the end, it will be almost three times as much as they earned. It’s a huge jump, and we’ve talked with workers and seen the amount of money they’re getting. It’s really feel-good work. Workers started earning this rate in December thanks to legal challenges for this app. All workers deserve to earn dignified pay.

There’s another group of workers we’re proud to support: The Freelance Isn’t Free Act that is specific to the self-employed population in our city. Together with the city Law Department, we announced a settlement, we got $275,000 in relief from L’Officiel, a company which did not comply with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. As a success story, the state decided to replicate that. They passed this law the governor signed and that’s going to be a huge win.

Another piece we’re proud of is that we want to make sure workers are getting the full range of services. One of the services we like to promote is our financial services department. We want to make sure people have everything they need, particularly the self-employed population. We launched tax prep services for self-employed workers. We are also promoting services for tax preparation that this group of individuals need so they can be amazing at the work that they do and don’t have to worry about their taxes – not just annual ones but also quarterly taxes.

And then, we do a number of cases related to workplace rights, and we have been able to get individuals their jobs back. That’s part of “no retaliation” and “just cause” provisions. We’ve been able to get wrongfully terminated workers reinstated to their positions, and secure millions of dollars in worker relief. Just last year, we got 570 complaints about potential violations, and we were able to close 240 investigations. And we got $10 million in restitution and civil penalties for 6,000 workers.

What are your top priorities for 2024? 

We don’t take the foot off the gas pedal. There’s paid leave and sick leave, and the delivery workers law. We really want to strengthen collaboration with worker advocacy organizations to ensure people know their rights and the worker justice project.

Now certainly a key aspect of protecting workers rights is making sure we’re aware and understand what they’re entitled to. This spring we’re releasing an updated “Worker Bill of Rights” in a multilingual summary. We’ll be ramping up worker education and hourly wage.  We know there’s new New Yorkers, there’s always someone who hasn’t heard about the law.

Are there any legislative proposals in the New York City Council that you’d like to see advance this year?

We’re reviewing some proposals. There’s the battery certification law. A lot of people don’t think about it as a labor protection, but it’s something we think about in a sense that there are safe micromobility devices that are accessible to delivery workers and their families. Because of that last month, we testified in the City Council to strengthen Local Law 39. Right now there’s a zero dollar penalty for first violation and that’s something that shouldn’t happen when it comes to the risk if someone is selling or renting uncertified devices. That is something we’d love to see get through. We want to strengthen current law so that we can issue more than a zero dollar penalty in the first violation and close down those who have repeat violations. We’re working with the fire department to have current enforcement of that as well.

Is there any labor-oriented legislation in Albany you’d like to see pass this session?

There’s the SWEAT Act. We agree with the bill to close loopholes that would help workers get restitution from adjudicated cases. We are working with state partners to let them know how we support it at the city level and sister agencies for an amendment for state public health law to expand financial assistance. There’s (state Sen. Gustavo) Rivera’s bill, the Ounce of Prevention Act. We host the Office of Financial Empowerment, so we know how burdensome medical debt can be. Sometimes people don’t think of debt as a labor issue, but it impacts so many Americans generally and 1 million city residents. It has serious consequences for our workforce. So many people that have debt are subject to wage garnishment and debt collection lawsuits. It’s really wonderful to be with the mayor and health commissioner allowing the city’s partnership with RIP Medical Debt to cancel medical debt.