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Trade Unionists Help Latino Construction Workers Fight Wage Theft – But Exploitation Continues

February 10, 2020

By Joe Maniscalco

Trade unionists talk with Latino construction workers on Gold Street last week.

Brooklyn, NY – Trade unionists advocating on behalf of a group of more than 40 Latino construction workers owed tens of thousands of dollars for work they did in Upper Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn have succeeded in helping to get most of those workers paid — but the so-called model of “open shop” development that allowed the workers to be ripped off in the first place remains intact. 

Most of the Latino construction workers were “made whole” on Friday afternoon after members of the NY Community Alliance for Worker Justice met with representatives of Prime Structures — the contractor overseeing the building projects where the men worked. 

A smaller group of Latino workers, however, will reportedly be paid their outstanding wages in installments.

One of the construction workers LaborPress spoke to on Friday afternoon, expressed relief that he was finally being paid for work he performed at 260 Gold Street for a subcontractor called Nieva Construction — but sadness, too, because some of his colleagues will still have to wait for their pay. 

“They’re not going to be made whole today,” the 32-year-old Brooklyn dad from Honduras said. 

Trade unionists are presently involved in a number of wage thefts fights around the city involving exploited nonunion workers. 

In one ongoing fight, trade unionists and NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — are working together in an effort to recover unpaid wages for a group of more than 20 nonunion construction workers who have been fighting since last year to be paid for work they did on a New Line Structures job site in Hallets Point, Queens. 

So far, only a portion of the reported $70,000 owed workers has been paid. 

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams recently joined with Council Members Ben Kallos, Carlos Menchaca and Francisco Moya in that fight. 

“It’s hard enough to find some damn work in this city,” Williams said last week at a rally outside the Lexington Avenue offices of the New York Construction Alliance. “If you work a full day, you should get paid for it.”

This past summer, Ironworkers Local 361 came to the aid of a  group of nonunion welders and ironworkers and helped them recover more than $6 million from a steel fabrication company in Maspeth, Queens called AGL Industries. 

Despite these and other brazen examples of wage theft across the construction industry, the de Blasio administration insists that it is fighting hard to “uplift workers, both union and non-union alike.”

“The City’s Office of Labor and Policy Standards protects and promotes labor standards and implements policies that create fair workplaces to ensure all workers can realize their rights,” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office told Laborpress back in August. 

“The situation speaks for itself,” New York Construction Alliance organizer Eddie Jorge said on Friday. “People are contacting us because they need help. We want to see the industry do better. We want to see guys like this get into the [Building] Trades and have a better future.”

Another member of the New York Construction Alliance said trade unionists don’t expect everybody to be union — “But you know what? If you’re going to be open shop contractor, you need to treat your workers with respect and pay them.”

February 10, 2020

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