New York, NY – In the summer of 2016, a 30-year-old Bronx construction worker with the temerity to inquire about two weeks of unpaid wages was spat on, struck on the head and ultimately tackled to the floor, shattering his lower right leg. Five years later, the kind of wage theft that father of two endured inside the 82-story luxury skyscraper going up at 111 West 57th Street has become a systemic, albeit “nefarious” business practice, costing workers as much as $1 billion a year.
A trio of bills before the New York State Legislature aims to confront the tide of brazen abuse. Chief among them is Senate Bill S2766, a piece of legislation that just made it out of the Labor Committee with 19 co-sponsors. A similar measure has already passed the Assembly.
If enacted into law, Senate Bill S2766 would make big time contractors like AECOM Tishman liable for any wages their hired subcontractors fail to pay workers.
On April 6, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, NICE — New Immigrant Community Empowerment — and other members of the Building Trades joined a spate of elected officials and mayoral hopefuls outside the Towers of Waldorf Astoria at 301 Park Avenue in support of Senate Bill S2766.
“Many contractors know [wage theft] is happening and they still keep hiring these subcontractors,” NICE member Juan Mendoza told LaborPress.
The 58-year-old said that he is still owed $700 for work he did several years ago, at Queens Borough Plaza. Others, he said, are owed much more.
“Others don’t even realize they’re being underpaid or not being paid overtime,” Mendoza said.
AECOM Tishman has been renovating the first 12 floors of the landmark Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel and converting the remaining space up to the 44th floor into multimillion dollar condos since 2018. During that time, the developer subcontracted out vital concrete work to Trident General Contracting — an outfit blasted as a “sweatshop” with an ugly track record of wage theft and other worker abuse.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has participated in no less than five rallies challenging Trident’s shady business practices. On Thursday, she called Tishman’s hiring of an open shop subcontractor fraught with a history of wage theft “outrageous,” and said “systemic change in the construction industry” is needed.
“[Trident] should not be on the job,” Brewer added.
State Senator Jessica Ramos [D-13th District] sponsored S2766 in the upper house, while Assembly Member Latoya Joyner [D-77th District] sponsored its counterpart in the lower chamber.
“This bill is getting rid of unscrupulous contractors and labor brokers,” Senator Ramos said. “We are going to pass this bill this session so we get our money back.”
Assembly Member Joyner said bad actors are “making it their business model exploiting workers.”
Joseph Geiger is executive secretary-treasurer for the New York City District Council of Carpenters. This week, he told supporters that too many in the construction industry are, indeed, treating wage theft as “business as usual” — and urged New York to “come out of the pandemic” putting workers ahead of greed.
“Wage theft isn’t an accident,” Geiger said. “It’s a choice. Everyone is a victim except the contractors who do it.”
Despite entrenched monied interests with high-priced lawyers and security firms, NYC District Council of Carpenters Executive Director Eddie McWilliams vowed to “end wage theft and hold contractors accountable” through the power of collective action.
“That’s how we got Social Security, that’s how we got public education, that’s how we got the 8-hour day — and this is how we’re gonna beat wage theft,” he said. “That’s how we’re gonna beat general contractors like AECOM Tishman who are ripping people off.”