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New York City’s controversial workfare program may soon face legal challenge under state “prevailing wage” laws– if city officials fail to reform the sub-minimum wage formula on which workers’ hours and compensation are based.

Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and their lawyers have drafted a lawsuit to challenge the city’s practice of making welfare recipients work off their checks at a rate based on an out-of-date minimum wage. If the city doesn’t boost the rate–or cut workers hours–by December 18, the suit will be filed, says ACORN member Sharon Bush, a workfare worker.

State social service regulations explicitly require that workfare participants be paid “the prevailing rate of pay for persons employed in the same or similar occupations.” A typical entry-level sanitation or parks worker is paid about $12 an hour. Most WEP participants receive welfare at a value equal to $4.25 an hour. The city should be paying at least $4.75 an hour under new minimum wage laws that took effect October 1, according to ACORN. Organizers have signed up nearly 2,000 workfare participants at some 40 sites across the city. They are demanding that officials reduce workfare hours or raise pay rates within ten days or face possible litigation, as well as a series of on-site protests and job actions.

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