Upholding Land-Grant Mission

Donahue research impacts public policy and workers
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Senior Extension Associate Linda Donahue MPS ’14 of The Worker Institute has spent decades collaborating on research about labor rights and worker wages, providing valuable data to New York state governmental bodies through publications, reports and testimonies.

Helping to uphold Cornell ILR’s land-grant mission through research, she has championed efforts for good wages, safe conditions, meaningful education, adequate health care and improved opportunities for working people.

“In the 1990s, I had the benefit of working with the R. Brinkley Smithers Institute at the ILR School, examining the relationship between drinking behaviors and work,” Donahue said. “It became quite evident to me that work affects the quality of people’s lives in almost every way.”

She co-authored the 2007 study “The Cost of Worker Misclassification in New York State” to spotlight its implications for not only workers and employers, but taxpayers.

Donahue testified before the New York State Senate and Assembly Labor Committees about ILR research findings that up to one in four construction workers in New York state might be misclassified.

“Misclassification occurs when an employer, at hiring, improperly classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than an employee,” Donahue said. “The employer illegally avoids his obligation to contribute to systems such as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.”

Further, misclassified employees often are denied access to minimum wages, overtime pay, and family and medical leave benefits — protections that they are likely entitled to by law.

“This costs governments — at all levels — substantial, uncollected revenues that are in the hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars. Taxpayers get stuck covering the shortfalls,” she said.

ILR’s research was instrumental in the formation of the New York State Task Force on Misclassification, Donahue said, and prompted an amendment to state law. The New York State Construction Industry Fair Play Act became law in 2010.