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‘Take it Back!’ Trade Unionists & Nonunion Workers United in Ongoing Fight Against Wage Theft

January 10, 2020

By Joe Maniscalco

Building Trades members protest wage theft and worker exploitation in New York’s construction industry.

New York, NY – The last time trade unionists and nonunion workers teamed up in November to demand one of the largest construction management companies in the city cough up $70,000 in unpaid wages — the company cooly thumbed its nose at protesters and barred elected officials from entering its Seventh Avenue offices. But that wasn’t the end of it. 

On January 8, trade unionists and nonunion workers with NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — once again returned with their City Council allies to New Line Structures’ offices at 512 Seventh Avenue, eager to press the fight against wage theft and to highlight widespread worker exploitation across the construction industry. 

This time, however, cops kept protesters far away from New Line’s high-rolling offices, relegating the vocal demonstrators to a specially prepared pen waiting for them across the street. 

“New Line made $208 million last year,” City Council Member Francisco Moya [D-21st District] jeered. “Now we’re out here in the streets [fighting] over $57,000 — the average entry-level position for someone at New Line. Yet, our workers are begging to get paid to put food on the table.”

Six construction workers who were part of a group of more than 20 nonunion workers stiffed on a New Line job site in Hallets Point, Queens last year, have reportedly been paid since trade unionists and unorganized workers last showed up on the company’s doorstep on November 19. 

“Not all the workers have been paid,” Council Member Carlos Menchaca [D-38th District] said at the January 8 rally. “Greedy developers have been taking advantage of our workers. It doesn’t matter what you look like because they’re going to take advantage of you.”

Trade unionists and nonunion construction workers are united against rampant wage theft in the industry.

Rampant wage theft is just one of a myriad of worker abuses that trade unionists say results when greedy developers go “open shop” and seek to maximize profits by exploiting especially vulnerable nonunion labor.

Since 2014, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has recovered more than $14.5 million for workers cheated on the job and assessed nearly $30 million in underpayment interest and penalties, debarring 58 contractors along the way. 

“We’re going to keep coming out for every worker in our city to make sure that when you’re on a construction site you get training, you get apprenticeship and a chance to learn on the job,” Council Member Ben Kallos [D-5th District] said. “[And] that you have a shop steward to come to when [bosses] tell you to do something dangerous. That you have protections on the job; that you get paid — not a minimum wage, not just a living wage — but a prevailing wage.”

New Line Structures has not responded to LaborPress’ requests for comment. The company is involved in numerous high-profile projects throughout the city— highly contested “open shop” developments including CIM Group private-equity fund’s 21-story tower at 85 Jay St. in Brooklyn, another building dubbed “the Leaning Tower of New York” at W. 14th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and others.  

“We’re here for the safety of all the people in construction — not just for ourselves,” said Joe Scopo, lead organizer for District 16 of the Cement and Concrete Workers. “Nonunion workers, walk off the job [and] walk to a union hall!”

Trade unionists insist that the kind of building happening in the nonunion sector is hurting the lives of all workers.

More than 90-percent of construction deaths occurring throughout the city have happened on nonunion job sits, according to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health [NYCOSH].

This past summer, District 16 of the Cement and Concrete Workers called on the de Blasio administration to “step up” and confront the fallout from so-called “open shop development.”

The Mayor’s Office insists that it is promoting labor standards policies that “create fair workplaces” and help to “ensure all workers can realize their rights.”

NICE spokesperson Diana Moreno said that the only reason cheated Hallets Point workers have been able to recover part of the money owed them, is because they demanded it.

“[And] we will not stop until all of our members are paid,” Moreno said this week. 

The Comptroller’s Office urges all workers who believe they have been ripped off on city-funded job sites to file a complaint with the agency at www.comptroller.nyc.gov/wages or call the Comptroller’s Labor Law hotline at (212) 669-4443. Inquiries can also be made via email to laborlaw@comptroller.nyc.gov or at the offices of the Comptroller located at One Centre Street, Room 651.

January 10, 2020

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