Breaking
Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

BY NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER SCOTT M. STRINGER

When Jose Luis Lopez Oliva got into a cab in Northern Manhattan this past March, he was just trying to make his way back home. Instead, his taxi ride started a chain of events that would lead to seven individuals being paid over $330,000 in wages they were owed for construction work they completed nearly a decade ago. It was an only-in-New York story that made headlines, but the lesson to take away from that fateful cab ride was something very simple: an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay.

First, a quick explanation of what the Comptroller’s Office has to do with a cab ride and a construction job from years ago.  Under state law, my office sets the prevailing wage and benefit rates for New York City. These laws help ensure that government maintains local wage standards on public works projects. Anyone who works for a contractor on a City construction job or is employed under a building service contract with a City agency must be paid the prevailing wage.

When companies ignore prevailing wage laws, it’s the Comptroller’s office that ensures there is accountability. Our investigators visit public worksites around the City to check payroll records and inform workers of their rights under the law. If we discover that they have been paid less than what the law requires, we assess violations and recoup funds the workers are rightfully-owed.

Since becoming Comptroller in 2014, I have made this work a priority. We’ve recovered $1.3 million for AlliedBarton security guards, reached a $1 million settlement for thirty-three underpaid iron workers in Queens, assessed a $1.1 million dollar fine on a contracting company that cheated metalworkers at various public schools and reached a $364,000 settlement for 33 workers who installed a roof at a Staten Island water treatment plant.

In total, we’ve assessed nearly $18 million in prevailing wage violations, paid over $8 million in underpayments with interest to workers, and debarred 35 contractors who we found took advantage of their workers.

But it’s the workers who don’t even know they’ve been cheated out of money which really sets my office into action. Last year, we announced that more than 1,000 workers were owed over $3.7 million in unclaimed prevailing wages. This is money we’ve collected from bad contractors for work that has been completed over many years, but which workers have failed to claim. We wanted to get the word out that if you were cheated out of your hard-earned wages on a City-funded public works project, my office has your back.

The good news is that since last August, we’ve helped connect 84 individuals claim more than $600,000 in lost wages. Our success is in large part due to the attention paid to these important cases by the news media, who help us connect workers to their wages. In fact, one of the taxi cab workers who I mentioned above was watching Univision’s coverage of the workers being awarded checks when he recognized himself in a picture on TV. His check was worth $50,000.

This year, we’re relaunching our campaign to help reunite workers with their rightfully-earned pay. Because we’ve aggressively sought out unscrupulous contractors, we now have more than $5 million in unclaimed prevailing wages for over 1,000 workers, many of whom may still live here in New York City.

As we begin another “Labor Rights Week” (August 29th – September 5), my office, in partnership with the Mexican Consulate and the Latin American Consulates Coalition, and joined by a broad coalition of labor rights groups and community organizations from across all five boroughs, is launching a “Know Your Rights Campaign” to help identify people who are owed wages.

If you think you’ve been underpaid, call my Bureau of Labor Law at (212) 669-4443, emaillaborlaw@comptroller.nyc.gov, or visit http://comptroller.nyc.gov/prevailingwage. All conversations will be kept confidential, and we’ll fight to get you the money you’re owed, regardless of immigration status.

Together, we can ensure the dignity of your work is never short-changed.

Appeared first in Voices of NY

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