NEW YORK— New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer announced today that three new immigrant workers have come forward to receive $129,000 dollars in unclaimed prevailing wages and benefits they were cheated out of over a decade ago by an unscrupulous contractor on a City-financed construction job. This incredible story began with a connection made during a taxi ride a few months ago, which led to four workers receiving $200,000 in money they were owed. With this new payment, the “taxi cab story” has now connected workers with nearly $330,000 in unclaimed prevailing wages.
“This has to go down in the record books as the best taxi ride in New York City history,” Comptroller Stringer said. “One chance encounter has resulted in seven workers receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages and benefits they are owed and the opportunity for a better life for them and their families. We will continue to fight for fair wages for all New Yorkers and spread our message that this office has zero tolerance for employers who exploit workers on City-funded construction projects.”
This incredible chain of events began in March 2016, after worker Jose Luis Lopez Oliva hailed a cab and was recognized by the driver, Mody Camara. Mr. Oliva and Mr. Camara had worked together in the mid-2000’s on a City-funded affordable housing project, but were cheated out of their rightful wages and paid well below the prevailing wage by an unscrupulous contractor, Mascon Restoration.
The Comptroller’s Office investigated the case, recovered money from the company, and had been trying to find the workers to give them the money they are rightfully owed. Mr. Camara, who had received a settlement from the Comptroller’s Office in 2012, encouraged Mr. Oliva to contact the Comptroller’s office and reach out to former co-workers who hadn’t been paid prevailing wages. In June, Mr. Oliva and three former co-workers received prevailing wage settlements totaling close to $200,000.
The three individuals who received checks today reached out to the Comptroller’s Office after seeing news coverage of the “taxi cab story.” Wilson Lopez, who lives in the Bronx, was watching Univision’s coverage of the press conference and saw a decade-old picture of himself from the worksite and contacted the Comptroller’s office about filing a claim. Today, he will receive $50,000.
Two other workers, Rony Alberto and Celvin Geovany Amaya Diego, who live in Ohio and Maryland, respectively, were alerted that they may be owed money by their uncle, Reynaldo Castillo, who was one of the four original “taxi cab” recipients. They will be paid nearly $40,000 each in unclaimed prevailing wages.
Under state law, the Comptroller’s Office sets and enforces prevailing wage and benefit rates on New York City public works projects, such as renovating public schools, or on building service contracts with City agencies, like security guard and custodial work. When companies do not pay the proper wages and benefits, the Comptroller enforces the law to ensure workers receive the money they are owed.
Since 2014, Comptroller Stringer’s office has assessed more than $17.8 million in prevailing wage violations and paid over $8 million to employees who were cheated out of their wages. Comptroller Stringer has made it a priority to recoup these funds on behalf of workers In August 2015, Comptroller Stringer held a press conference to launch an outreach campaign and publicize that his office was holding more than $3.7 million in unclaimed prevailing wage settlements; since then, 84 individuals out of over 1,000 have come forward to claim nearly $600,000 in lost wages.
“More than one thousand workers are owed money that is rightfully theirs and we are doing everything in our power to help get the word out about unclaimed prevailing wages. It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is – if you worked on a City-financed project, you should be paid what the law requires. Three more people have now claimed their wages and you can too,” Stringer said.