New York, NY – Before Kareame Perkins joined Laborers Local 79, there was no end to the wage theft and other abuses she experienced as a nonunion construction worker in New York City. Sadly, Perkins’ outrageous experiences are emblematic; billions of dollars are stolen from abused workers throughout the state each year.
And while Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio rush to erect monuments and throw ticker tape parades for working men and women — the elite developers and contractors who wield most of the power in this economy continue to run amok.
A series of legislative efforts aimed at curtailing wage theft already approved by the New York State Legislature, still awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature.
Governor Cuomo killed one of the bills last year, citing his concerns about the due process rights of bosses.
“There were time when I felt like my life was in danger,” Perkins told a group of some 200 New York City construction workers rallying at the corner of East 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon.
Perkins came down with COVID-19 during the roughly year-and-a-half she worked for PRC construction. The virus knocked her out for three weeks — but PRC reportedly only paid Perkins for a single day.
Sometimes, Perkins said, she worked six days a week; clocking 70 hours on the job — but was only paid for half the time. There were other times, she said, where she would have to wait three weeks before seeing a paycheck.
Perkins worked a nonunion job for an outfit called PRC. But she could have worked for any number of high-profile contractors operating in New York City, including New Line Structures, ECD NY and Alba Services, that have extensive histories involving sexual harassment, poor safety and wage theft.
This week, the Take It Back campaign — a coalition of union and nonunion construction workers — took their fight against wage theft and worker exploitation to the offices of German banking giant Allianz.
Allianz, like other enormous financial institutions including J.P. Morgan Asset Management, invests huge sums of money into projects openly flouting fundamental worker rights and protections.
Members of the Take It Back campaign, initially kept across the street from the offices of Allianz Real Estate of America, marched across the busy thoroughfare and demonstrated on the bank’s doorstep at 60 East 42nd Street.
Together, they called on the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate to start enforcing responsible contractor policies and to stop supporting an “underground economy that creates a race to the bottom.”
Wage theft has been a New York State scandal for more than a decade. Back in 2010, then City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, vigorously denounced wage theft on the steps of City Hall. The Wage Theft and Prevention Act passed the next year, but to little avail.
Last year, during the height of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported returning some $2 million in stolen wages to about 100 workers who were not being paid a prevailing wage.
Failing to pay the prevailing wage is just one way embolden bosses have found to cheat workers out of their money, however. Other forms of wage theft involve misclassification, withholding overtime pay, ignoring the minimum wage, confiscating tips, forcing workers to work off the clock and denying mandated breaks.