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Union Carpenters Team Up with Undocumented Workers Alleging Wage Theft and Other Abuse on Park Ave

New York, NY – Poor doors for workers. Workplace injuries. Wage theft. The NYC District Council of Carpenters is taking aim at all of it on Park Avenue. 

The Towers of Waldorf Astoria construction project at 301 Park Avenue has garnered the attention of elected officials, NYC Department of Buildings and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]. It has also led to a new bill seeking to hold general contractors accountable for shady subcontractors.  

In 2018, AECOM Tishman was awarded the general contract to renovate the first 12 floors of the landmark Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel, and to convert the remaining space up to the 44th floor into condominiums worth millions. 

After the demolition phase and some mechanical work, AECOM Tishman decided to award a $25 million subcontract to Trident General Contracting to perform concrete work in the building. 

According to NYC District Council of Carpenters Executive Director Eddie McWilliams, Trident General Contracting is nothing but a “construction sweatshop.” 

“There are no learning standards,” he says. “There is no living wage or comparable wages. Workers do not receive any health care insurance — there is no retirement benefits. And they don’t participate in the New York State Apprenticeship program.”

Instead, McWilliams says Trident preys on undocumented workers and has established a “poor door” entrance and exit for them, while the predominantly white unionized workers doing mechanical work go through a different entryway. 

“They have to go through a certain location that is highlighted as ‘Gate B,’” McWilliams says of the undocumented workers. “Any person going through that entrance is going to earn far less on the job site.”

There were also two serious incidents at the site in recent weeks — one involving a broken leg, according to McWilliams. 

“Our union tries to help them,” says Cristian Batres, an officer with the NYC District Council of Carpenters, Local 157. “Their bosses say, ‘If you talk to them, we are going fire you, we are going to call ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”

Batres, 39, is multilingual and tried to reach out to one of the immigrant workers to offer help recovering unpaid wages. 

The worker initially tried to speak with the union officer, but a lawyer from Trident later isolated the employee and kept him from speaking up, according to Batres. 

“I texted him saying, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling? Are you doing better?'” Batres says. “I never got a response from him. I tried to call him a couple of times, but nothing. They don’t want him to talk to me.”

A different worker recently suffered a head injury at another Trident job site located at 200 East 83rd Street, resulting in the DOB issuing a partial stop work order on Feb. 11. 

The DOB also slapped a partial stop work order on the Waldorf project. OSHA issued a complaint earlier this month, following two work injuries on the site.

The workers who were willing to speak to Batres told him that they were being instructed to only go through “Gate B.” They also said they were verbally abused and only making $18/hr. during the pandemic. And they didn’t even know they were supposed to fill out a W-2 form. 

According to ZipRecruiter, an online job website, a union worker doing a similar job in New York City could expect to earn approximately $27.93/hr.

“[Undocumented workers] get no benefits — no nothing,” Batres says. “They also told me that [Trident] was behind in its payments. They are two weeks behind.”

According to Batres, workers failed to receive their normal pay on February 5.

Another group of aggrieved workers hit Trident with a class action lawsuit last December. In 2019, a group of Black employees filed a Civil Rights suit against Trident alleging racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.

“They are playing around with [workers’] money,” Batres says. 

On Feb. 9, not long after the incident that left one worker’s leg broken —  approximately 150 people, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, rallied at the Waldorf worksite. A subsequent rally held the following week included both City Councilmen Keith Powers (D-Manhattan) and Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan).

“We are calling on Tishman to do the right thing and bring in good union jobs,” Kallos said at that rally.

McWilliams hopes that State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst) wage theft bill, is ultimately passed, so that contractors can start being truly held accountable for non-payment of wages. The New York State Assembly passed a similar piece of legislation on Jan. 26. 

“I don’t care about the workers’ [undocumented] status — they are human,” says Batres. “Trident is violating their rights.”

AECOM Tishman and Trident General Contracting have not responded to LaborPress’ requests for comment.

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