February 16, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY - The Trump administration’s already corrosive crusade against Muslim people and immigrant communities of color is now also helping to “embolden” crooked contractors intent on cheating vulnerable workers out of millions of dollars in hard-earned wages and benefits, according to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Earlier this week, Stinger’s office barred KS Contracting and its owner Paresh Shah from doing business with the city for a period of five years, and further assessed the company with $3.2 million in penalties after being found guilty of cheating at least 36 workers out of $1.7 million between 2008 and 2011.
“We are here to not just protect these workers — but to send a message,” the comptroller said early Monday afternoon. “If you’re a company that cheats its employees out of an honest day’s pay, we are going to find you.”
The multi-year investigation into KS Contracting’s payroll determined that the company routinely paid half its employees “off-the-books,” while requiring the other half to cash their checks and resubmit the money back to supervisors, who then doled out funds to the workforce at rates far below the prevailing wage of $50 an hour.
“To cover up this scheme on paper, KS Contracting falsely reported to city agencies that all employees on the job site who received checks were paid appropriately,” Stringer said. “The company reported that it paid its workers combined wage and benefit rates starting at $50 per hour. But in reality, that company actually paid daily workers cash salaries starting at just $90 a day.”
Since taking office in 2014, the comptroller has recovered over $9 million in unpaid wages and benefits for workers, while also barring -- at least temporarily -- a total of 40 companies from getting city business.
“In this case, the majority of workers impacted were immigrants of Latino, South Asian or West Indian descent,” Stringer said. “Schemes like this targeting immigrants are just plain wrong. And now more than ever — given the new reality in this country — we have to protect our vulnerable citizens. When government creates a climate of fear for immigrants, it becomes easy for employers to exploit that fear to cheat workers out of their hard-earned wages because those workers will likely be afraid to complain.”
In less that a month on the job, Trump has instituted a travel ban on several Muslim countries that was later overturned in federal court; shut the door on war-torn refugees; and ordered Immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) agents to raid select immigrant communities.
“There’s going to be a continuing focus on exploiting immigrants because every day you are hearing from Washington and from this administration that that is okay,” Stringer said. “The best way that we, as a sanctuary city can fight back, is to use existing laws to make sure that immigrants do not get exploited. I think you’re going to see this on the front line of a lot of the work that we do.”
At the state level, legislators are being urged, this week, to act on labor's five-point “Empire State Working Family Protection Platform” — a pro-labor agenda designed to shield employees from longstanding issues like wage theft, while also protecting them from new assaults coming out of the Trump administration.
Late last week, Ironworkers Local 46 Political & Legislative Director John Skinner blasted the corporate crimewave, saying wage theft "triples all other theft combined in this country."
“So, that means that corporations are stealing three-times as much, or more than all the other criminals combined that do thefts for a living — we’re talking about robbery, burglary, auto theft and other types of larceny,” Skinner said. “The corporations that do this are also criminals, and need to be held accountable for their actions.”
Between 2007 and 2010 alone, KS Contracting enjoyed more than $21 million in NYC municipal contracts, performing work for the Department of Parks & Recreation, Department of Design & Construction and Department of Sanitation in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.
“This [exploitation] has been going on for a long time, said Maf Misbah Uddin, president of the Alliance for South Asian-American Labor. “We cannot sit idly at the local level.”
KS Contracting only came under official investigation after The Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York alerted the city about complaints.
“Now more than ever, we’re seeing exploitative employers feeling emboldened by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric to take advantage of their workforces,” Make the Road New York’s Meg Fosque said on Monday.
Laborers Local 1010 watchdog and Community Board 10 member Derrick Graham told LaborPress that wage theft is, indeed, a pernicious citywide problem.
“This is running rampant throughout the city, and it’s not right,” Graham said.
Stringer, meanwhile, said that he was happy to make an example out of KS Contracting -- and that his office will be increasing efforts to crack down other crooks feeling emboldened by Trump's words and actions.
“We’re doubling down,” the comptroller said. “We know more are coming because every week, every day, there is a hateful Tweet, there is hateful rhetoric.”