Building Trades

Ironworkers Try to Solve East Harlem Wage Theft

February 21, 2016
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – None of these workers are getting paid,” says Octaviano Cortes, standing outside the partially finished foundation at 109 East 115th St. in East Harlem on the afternoon of Feb. 19. Antonio Lopez, speaking with a heavy Spanish accent, says he showed up for work at 7 in the morning, hasn’t been paid in three weeks, and is owed $1,400. “I’m trying to do everything I can to get money for my guys,” says a foreman who asks to remain anonymous. “I haven’t gotten paid in two months.”

“Just about everybody on this job is behind three or four weeks,” Ironworkers organizer Eddie Jorge says of the about 20 nonunion workers constructing an eight-story apartment building. “Some of them haven’t gotten paid in two months.”

Patrick Ryan, project manager for ATR, the job’s concrete subcontractor, says he plans to pay the workers, but is caught between a general contractor that won’t pay him and a competitor that’s “trying to knock me off the project.”

He says he’s already paid out $46,000 in wages for the month ending Feb. 9, and owes about $20,000. After Feb. 9, he says, Tri-Crete, a rival concrete subcontractor, began “stacking the job,” sending him workers he didn’t request.

“We didn’t need 14 guys a day,” he says. “I have no bad intent. I don’t want to pay for things I didn’t ask for.” He says when he called the general contractor, All Building Construction, to ask for the money he was owed, “they basically screamed at me” and hung up on him.

“Patrick’s a fuckin’ liar,” a man who identifies himself as the project senior manager says over a speakerphone in the project’s offices, around the corner on Park Avenue. “We’ve paid him $71,500 in the last two weeks.”

All Building Construction has already paid ATR more than $640,000, he adds, so Ryan could “maintain his material accounts and his payroll.” When he gets Ryan on the phone and asks him what he did with the $71,500, Ryan says he paid the workers, and hangs up.

“Tri-Crete has nothing to do with this,” the foreman says. “We’re all here for ATR. If you look at the sign-in sheet, we all work for him.” The only connection, he says, is that ATR hired him after he finished a job for Tri-Crete down the block.

“This is rampant in the nonunion world,” says Jorge. About eight workers were told there was no more work after they were seen talking to union representatives at the site, says Ironworkers member Christian Mejia. Some workers told him that ATR paid them for only eight hours on days when they worked ten, he adds. Some just quit and tried to find paying work, says Carrol Turner, who works with the New York Community Alliance for Worker Justice. Some are undocumented, which makes them more vulnerable to wage theft, says Jorge.

The Ironworkers and Laborers Local 79 will meet with representatives from All Building Construction and Ryan on Monday the 22nd, to try to get the workers paid.

February 21, 2016

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