In a New York Times article published December 6, 2017, writer Luis Ferre-Sadurni paints a troublesome picture of wage theft in the construction industry. While it’s no secret that workers across the country lose billions of dollars a year in unpaid wages, the article highlights just how big the problem is for some employees right here in the New York City region.
Most people agree that wages belong to workers who earn them. After all, this is why people work. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) in 1938 to ensure that working people received at least the minimum wage and overtime. The FLSA also sets regulations for calculating hours. New York State and New York City also have laws that protect workers’ rights. The laws are on the books, but employers find a myriad of ways to shortchange their employees. Not paying workers all the wages the law mandates, is theft.
Wage theft usually consists of paying below the proper minimum wage, refusing to pay overtime, and not paying employees for all their hours. When employers do not pay the legal rate to workers for all the time they perform work, they are stealing pay. Employees have rights to recover wages their employers owe.
The Times article states that a 2014 report commissioned by the United States Department of Labor, showed that New York workers lose $10-20 million PER WEEK in unpaid wages. The report also showed that non-US citizens are “three times more likely to be cheated.” New York City, America’s “melting pot,” is home to thousands of immigrants, many who are not citizens, holding a variety of jobs. Many of these men and women are especially vulnerable to wage theft.
Employees in all fields express fear of speaking up for their rights to recover wages. After all, who wants to risk losing their job? Immigrants, often experience this fear on a deeper level perhaps because of questionable legal status. Language barriers also make it difficult for employees to question their paychecks. Low-wage earners, like those in restaurants, whether citizens or not, are also at high risk for wage theft. New York City has its fair share of these vulnerable employees.
The construction industry in the New York metro area consists of a wide variety of people. Many are day laborers, often immigrants. It is easy for an employer to steal wages from a day laborer whether because of a language barrier or the desire for any work, it is unlikely that such a worker will argue about pay. A construction business looking to save money may favor day laborers for this reason.
The casual nature of construction work also makes it a field ripe for wage theft. Agreements for pay are often informal and jobs, shifts, and locations frequently rotate. There is ample room for employers to exploit the labor force, as we have seen recently in some disturbing cases.
One such case involved Ariel Ortega. Ortega worked for Michael Stathakis, owner of Whisk Remodeling Corp. His checks bounced every week. He never received overtime for his extra hours remodeling an apartment in Brooklyn. Ortega confronted Stathakis with his concerns. Stathakis, Ortega claims, threatened that if he quit, he would never see the hundreds of dollars in wages he owed him. The good news? Ortega’s employer pleaded guilty to fraud, “admitting he failed to pay Mr. Ortega and dozens of other workers, many of them immigrants, more than $90,000 in wages.”
Luckily for New Yorkers, District attorneys in all 5 New York City boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and The Bronx, have “ratcheted up” their efforts to crack down on wage theft in construction. Beginning January 1, 2017, the New York Department of Labor reported “egregious wage theft cases” involving contractors, to these prosecutors who have filed criminal charges. These efforts, the Times states, were an attempt to two things: Recover unpaid wages for workers and to make industry employers understand that NY means business. Cross-county cooperation means that businesses can expect enforcement of wage laws and prosecution of violations wherever they set up shop in the area. In the words of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, “This crackdown sends a strong and direct message that workers will be protected and the principles of fairness and equality will continue to be upheld in this great state.”
Has the cooperative “crackdown on wage theft in the construction industry been successful? This year according to Cyrus Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, indictments have resulted in over $2 million in unpaid wages for over 400 construction workers in our area. As recently as Monday, December 4, 2017, City Metro Corp. was indicted for failing to pay nearly $250,000 to more than 40 construction workers on a midtown hotel project. The owners have pleaded not guilty.
On December 4, 2017, Governor Cuomo’s office released some notable results of the crackdown in the New York City area:
|Magnetic Contracting Corp||Queens||6||$95,300|
|J&D Painting Contractors||Attorney General||6||$39,000|
|AVM Construction||Attorney General||6||$281,630|
|National Insulation and General Contracting Corp.||Nassau||9||$13,750|
Every employee has the right to take home all the wages the law allows. Yet, employers continue to find ways to cheat their workers out of pay. If you work for a contractor or in the construction industry, ask yourself if your employer is paying you properly-
If you are one of the thousands of construction workers in New York City or the metro area, don’t be a victim of wage theft. If you need help collecting the wages your employer owes you, contact Leeds Brown Law., P.C. Our unpaid wage lawyers represent employees who work construction or builders: laborers, helpers, landscapers, bricklayers, roofers, painters, plumbers, electricians, framers and all the trades.
Let us help you and your co-workers recover the wages you work hard to earn. Call Leeds Brown for a free consultation at 1-800-585-4658. Someone is available to take your call 24/7, so don’t wait. Call now!