We applaud New York City Councilman Brad Lander for advocating for policies that aim to thwart rampant wage theft from freelancers across New York City. However, we are wondering … is he willing to take that same position for workers in the unionized construction industry?
In Lander’s opinion piece, he chronicled the strife of freelance workers fighting for wages they were rightfully owed. We have a few more stories from construction workers that he can add to his repertoire:
· Applied & Stonehenge stole $43,000 from Macie, a Brooklyn resident;
· Applied Construction stole $50,000 from Ramon, another Brooklyn resident; and
· MC&O, Erin Construction stole $45,000 from Venancio, also a Brooklynite.
All three cases have been settled because of the hard work of Local 79, the Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund (LEROF) and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Each case provided tens of thousands of dollars to hardworking families. Unionized laborers are part of a proud workforce responsible for building our city. From constructing our famous skyscrapers thousands of feet in the air to building the tunnels that guide our unparalleled, underground mass transit system – it is the laborers who have developed the foundation of our great city.
However, Macie, Ramon, and Venancio are not members of LIUNA. They are part of a nonunion workforce overcome with hazardous working conditions, unscrupulous employers and an untrained workforce.
The fact is, if these workers were part of LIUNA, they would have never encountered wage theft. But because of our organization’s commitment to the construction workforce – union and nonunion alike – we confront cases of wage theft from every corner of the industry.
Wage theft is the denial of wages or employee benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. There are hundreds of cases of wage theft in the unionized construction industry. Workers, for example, who are owed $1,200 for 40 hours’ worth of work, but only receive $800 from their employer, not because of a clerical error or a tax issue, but because they know some workers are not aware of the the proper channels to recoup their wages.
That is $400 robbed from a middle-class family to line the pockets of millionaire developers, instead of being used for rent, food or clothing. Nonunion contractors are notorious for targeting immigrants who are unfamiliar with our laws and payroll system to gouge wages meant for their families.
We do our best to settle every case, but the City Council and Councilman Lander can do more to help our cause. Unfortunately, Councilman Lander – a former affordable housing developer – has remained silent on legislation meant to protect construction workers by awarding city contracts to responsible contractors.
Make no mistake, we support the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” In the labor movement, we support everyone who is looking for an “honest day’s work, for an honest day’s pay.” That is what the movement is all about, and we believe it is time to raise the bar for all employers.
But if you are going to be part of the labor movement, if you are going to part of the progressive caucus, if you are going to purport to support working people, then you must be inclusive of all workers.
LIUNA has made their position clear to Councilman Lander’s office regarding legislation that would protect against wage theft. Unfortunately, he continues to hide behind political rhetoric rather than stand up for our workforce.
If Councilman Lander wants to make a change, his first step should be supporting Intro. 967 – a bill that intends to eliminate wage theft on projects funded by the city by creating a preferred contractors list and an ombudsman position within HPD to track and report on wage theft and construction quality complaints. The bill has been introduced for nearly a year, but we are still waiting for him to sign on.
We are happy to have City Council members as part of the labor movement, but this is about raising the bar for all workers, not a chosen few.
Pat Purcell is the executive director of Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust.
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