July 11, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
New York—“They robbed me every week,” says Abraham Rosado, a former worker at the Auringer family group of construction companies. Carrol Turner, who has worked for them for 13 years, says they routinely shaved a few hours off his paycheck, sometimes paid as little as $100 for a 15-hour shift, and would deduct $2 an hour for “taxes”—and then send him a 1099 tax form at the end of the year, instead of a W-2 that would have credited him for the money withheld.
“Verbal abuse, wage theft, racism,” says Turner, a 51-year-old father of five who speaks in the accent of his native Jamaica. Once, he said, co-owner Tom Auringer told him, “I can afford to lose 25 blacks or Hispanics because I can replace them like this, but I cannot afford to lose one white man.”
“I’ve been hearing these stories for ten years,” New York State District Council of Iron Workers organizer Eddie Jorge said at a meeting July 9. The Auringer family is one of the largest crane and ironwork contractors in the city, running a dozen-odd companies under names like U.S. Crane and Rigging, Super Structure, New York Hoist, New York Pre-Cast, and New York Plank Services. The business names change every couple years, Jorge says, but the operation has an awesomely bad record on safety and wage theft. It has amassed more than $300,000 in federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines, forces workers who’ve had accidents to sign waivers before they come back to the job, routinely ignores stop-work orders, and will claim that a 200-ton crane is only 100 tons in order to get lower insurance rates, he told the meeting.
“We have to buy our own helmets, our own harness, our own safety gloves,” says Turner. “They don’t teach you the work,” says Ithier Lopez, 26, a father of three who’s been on the job since he was 17. He shows the scar on his palm from when it was pierced by a piece of rebar when he fell off a building.
Despite this record, the Auringers have a significant amount of publicly subsidized contracts. Most of what they work on is so-called “affordable housing,” says an Ironworkers researcher. “Right now, just in the Bronx, they’ve got about six jobs,” says Jorge. “It’s all HPD” (the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development).
Rather than do a traditional organizing campaign at the company, however, the Ironworkers are planning a community and political campaign against “unethical contractors” under the umbrella of the New York Community Alliance for Worker Justice.
Turner and Lopez went on strike against the company in May. How effective can a two-man strike be in a company with about 100 workers? “Somebody has to step forward,” says Turner. “We’re just fighting the fight,” says Lopez. “It’s not just for me, it’s for the injustice these guys bring upon us.”