Building Trades, Law and Politics, New York, topslot

‘Every Week, They’re Guessing If They’re Going to Get Paid’

October 26, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

Unpaid Latino workers in Long Island City turned to their brothers & sisters in the unionized Building Trades for help this month.

NEW YORK, N.Y.—On Oct. 15, a sunny Thursday in Long Island City, a knot of about a half-dozen construction workers milled in front of a bodega near the job. They hadn’t been paid in two weeks. When the woman they’d been waiting for finally arrived, clad in a black hard hat, they received envelopes of cash from her, bending over the bodega’s outdoor table to sign for them.

Except not all of them got paid in full, says Eddie Jorge of the New York Community Alliance for Workers Justice, a union-backed group fighting wage theft by nonunion construction contractors. He says a worker named Alejandro told him that “every week, they’re guessing if they’re going to get paid.” 

The workers were employed by International Concrete, a subcontractor on 21-18 44th Drive, an eight-story building that will contain ground-floor shops, 40 hotel rooms, and 29 apartments. It’s one of the scores of new luxury buildings in the waterfront neighborhood. But construction, originally expected to be completed last fall, has been slowed by factors including a partial stop-work order the city Department of Buildings issued for miscellaneous hazardous violations last month.

Jorge says the Alliance learned of the problem when workers on the job called them. When he and Anthony Fagiolo of Insulators Local 12 went to speak to a supervisor for the general contractor—Park Development, also known as Park Premium Enterprises—the man at first told them their problem was with the subcontractor. Jorge and Fagiolo responded that the general contractor was responsible for its subcontractors’ behavior.

“They must have Googled what we do, because they were very cooperative,” Jorge says. 

“I paid the subcontractor,” the supervisor, who did not want his name published, told LaborPress. “I paid him in full. I found out he didn’t pay the guys.”

The next day, the woman in the black hard hat arrived, and immediately started yelling at the workers that they shouldn’t have called the Alliance, Jorge says. “She didn’t realize we spoke Spanish,” he adds.

“I don’t know what happened, but everybody got paid,” the woman, Corina—she didn’t want to give her last name—told LaborPress. “I pay early. It was one week, and I pay one week early. Somebody hired me to pay the people, and that’s it.”

Jorge says she’s a broker, someone hired to pay workers in cash, and that he’s seen her before, on a job in Brooklyn.

“How are these people able to come in with fifteen, twenty thousand in cash?” he asks. “They’re cheating workers’ compensation, they’re not paying taxes or insurance. This is what these companies do.”

Many of the workers are undocumented immigrants, Jorge says, so “they’re scared. They don’t want to talk to anybody.” The contractors tell them, “You don’t have anywhere else to go. You’ll get deported.”

Sometimes, he adds, workers who haven’t been paid “get so discouraged that instead of losing more time, they go to work for another contractor.”

“It’s just everywhere,” Jorge says. “Since the jobs started opening back up, we’re going to see a lot more of this.”

October 26, 2020

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