August 28, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The Comptroller’s Office says that the number of construction companies barred from doing business with the city has risen significantly over the last two years — at the same time, worker advocates insist that wage theft and other workplace abuses have run rampant throughout town. So, how effective is disbarment as a tool for policing crooked developers and contractors?
Over the past 19 months, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has disbarred 21 groups found to have violated prevailing wage laws, and reached settlements totaling more than $8.6 million. More than 1,000 predominately non-union workers are still eligible for $3.7 million in prevailing wage settlements.
Many of those same 21 companies that the comptroller has disbarred, have also violated prevailing wage law on multiple public work contracts over the last several years.
Back in April, during a hearing on affordable housing development, Committee on Housing & Buildings Chair Jumaane Williams criticized HPD’s process of reprimanding bad actors in the construction industry as constituting little more than giving them a “time-out,” before resuming business as usual.
“We have to find a way to punish them, and I’m not sure that has happened the way it is set up here,” Williams said.
Disbarments outlined under the Labor Law concerning prevailing wage violations, and administered through the offices of the NYC Comptroller and NYS Attorney General, last for a period of five years. But worker advocates say that those sanctions have not deterred companies from continuing to rip-off workers, or cleverly reemerging as “new” entities after being caught.
“The evidence of the pattern of wage theft in the non-union construction industry is ongoing and pervasive,” says Eddie Jorge, organizer, NYC Community Alliance for Worker Justice. “The only solution for this problem is widespread procurement reform which would guarantee a level playing field for highroad contractors and developers, and assure a life with dignity for the hard working men and women in our city.”
Existing regulations are supposed to deter disbarred companies from morphing into different entities and escaping trouble. Under the Labor Law, the debarment of a contractor also extends to individual shareholders who control more than 10 percent of the outstanding stock, as well as any officer or contractor with knowledge of violation, any successor entity, and any substantially-owned affiliated entity.
Members of the NYC Community Alliance for Worker Justice presently engaged in an ongoing strike against Thomas G. Auringer-affiliated construction companies, support new measures that would subject bad actors to hefty fines — and beefed-up supensions lasting 10 years.
Scott Stringer’s office hasn’t given up on the present system of sanctions, however.
“The comptroller feels strongly that disbarment is an effective deterrence, which is why this office has been so aggressive in pursuing and punishing bad actors,” Press Secretary Eric Sumberg told LaborPress.
Companies who falsifying payroll records, or engage in the kickback of wages or supplements, could find themselves disbarred from public works projects. A contractor may also be debarred for willful violation of prevailing wage law on different projects within a six year period.
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