School-Repair Workers Win $400G Back Pay

July 22, 2014
By Steven Wishnia

New York—In what the city comptroller’s office says is the largest individual settlement it has ever awarded, a Long Island-based contractor has agreed to pay almost $400,000 to two school-repair workers it paid less than half of the prevailing wage.

National Insulation & GC Corp. of Oyster Bay will give $294,000 to Francisco Ayala and $102,000 to Angel Ribadeneira, as well as paying almost $40,000 in civil fines, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer announced July 9. The two had worked for National for four years, from 2006 to 2010, doing jobs like installing thermal insulation, fixing and replacing windows, and floor covers, and working on chain-link fences in city public schools.

Department of Education contractors are supposed to pay a prevailing wage of about $46 an hour plus benefits for such work, according to a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office. But Ayala, an immigrant from El Salvador who lives in Brooklyn, at first worked off the books for $500 a week, getting a raise to around $950 when he was put on the payroll. Ribadeneira, an Ecuadorean who lives in Queens, got $900 to $950.

“We have found that all too often, employees are fleeced out of money to which they’re entitled by unscrupulous contractors looking to cut corners,” Stringer said in a statement. “These employees worked hard for their salaries and they deserve to get every cent that’s rightfully owed to them. My office will continue to pursue these bad actors that fail to provide a legal wage.”

The investigation was set off when the comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law got a tip from a Department of Education investigator. Surveillance video had indicated that some workers were not signing in at the security desk before beginning the job, the spokesperson said, and the investigation found that National had been using off-the-books “ghost workers.” There were also allegations that it had misclassified workers and not paid them for all the hours they worked, but the company did not admit to that in the settlement.

“I’m grateful to hear I’m going to receive the money that is rightfully owed to me for the hard work I performed,” Ayala said in the statement. “I plan to deposit the check, pay off whatever current bills I have, and research the best way to invest the money.”

“I’m thrilled,” said Ribadeneira. “I’m going to make certain my wife and I will have enough to live on comfortably, and set aside money for my three sons and six grandchildren.”

July 21, 2014

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