NYC COMPTROLLER LAUNCHES PHONE BANK TO CONNECT WORKERS WITH $2.5 MILLION IN UNCLAIMED WAGES

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[Stolen Wages\NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer]
32BJ SEIU's Kyle Bragg: "We strongly support the Comptroller’s proactive efforts to get $2.5 million in stolen wages back in the hands of families that need them, and urge our members to respond to calls from the Comptroller’s office."
Photo: Susan Watts/Office of the NYC Comptroller

NY City Comptroller Stringer, at podium, is seeking to return $2.5 million in stolen wages to cheated workers.

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer has announced a new telephone campaign to return over $2.5 million in unclaimed prevailing wages to workers cheated out of their pay by unscrupulous contractors on City-funded projects.

The Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law enforces prevailing wage and benefit rates for construction and building service workers employed by contractors on City public work projects. When companies on these public contracts fail to pay the proper wages and benefits, the Comptroller enforces the law to recover the money owed to workers and ensure that they receive the money through outreach.

The phone calls notifying workers – many of whom are immigrants – are being made by employees of the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law who are telecommuting due to the COVID-19 pandemic and conducting intensive research to find telephone numbers and email addresses for workers with unclaimed wages. Anecdotal evidence indicates many workers are afraid to respond to calls and emails because they fear it is a scam, making widespread public awareness essential to connect employees with their prevailing wage awards.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is putting tremendous strain on New York City’s workforce and vulnerable communities, leaving many families uncertain about their ability to pay rent or even put food on the table,” Stringer said. “In these challenging times, every dollar counts. While the federal social safety net continues to discriminate based on immigration status, we’re working around the clock to make sure workers get the $2.5 million in unclaimed prevailing wages they are owed for their work with the City. We’re asking New Yorkers across the five boroughs to spread the word, and to please get in touch if you think you may have been unfairly cheated out of wages.”

Since 2014, Comptroller Stringer’s office has assessed more than $30 million in prevailing wage violations and paid over $15 million to employees who were cheated out of their wages. It has also debarred over 50 contractors who took advantage of workers – setting an office record.

“At a time when so many families are hurting and workers are being left out of the federal stimulus, Comptroller Stringer’s initiative will put money in the hands of workers that have been cheated out of pay regardless of their immigration status. Wage theft is a persistent and pervasive problem in New York, with employers consistently cheating workers out of money they rightfully earned. We commend the Comptroller for fighting to recoup wages for workers and sending a clear message to employers that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” said Deborah Axt, Executive Director of Make the Road New York.

“In his time as Comptroller, Scott Stringer has consistently worked to stand up for the rights of workers on many fronts. As this pandemic hits New Yorkers especially hard, it’s even more important for working families to get access to all the resources due them. We strongly support the Comptroller’s proactive efforts to get $2.5 million in stolen wages back in the hands of families that need them, and urge our members to respond to calls from the Comptroller’s office, and to assure their co-workers and neighbors that they should also respond,” said Kyle Bragg, President of 32BJ SEIU.

“With immigrants representing more than half of our front line workers and thousands ineligible for relief, it is vital that they receive every cent owed them. Even during the best of times, rampant wage theft remains a reality for all too many hard-working New Yorkers. We applaud the Comptroller’s effort to ensure that all workers are able to get the compensation they deserve for their labor,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

"The New York City District Council of Carpenters applauds New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and his campaign to return unclaimed wages to New Yorkers cheated out of their pay. Without a doubt, unpaid wages are theft. It is clear and simple that it robs hardworking New Yorkers from their hard-earned money. Make no mistake that wage theft cuts deeps and wide, affecting more than the average worker trying to make ends meet and put food on the table. While heinous, thieving contractors cheat workers and their families out of their earned pay and benefits, they also rob the government—at the city, state and federal levels—of vital tax revenue, workers compensation, and unemployment funds. We thank Comptroller Stringer for taking on this major issue on behalf of the exploited workers and holding unscrupulous contractors responsible for their corrupt actions,” said Joseph Geiger, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters.

“We welcome the Comptroller’s determination and commitment to ensure that all workers, men and women, regardless of their immigration status, are compensated for their hard work. We will continue strengthening our alliance with all the City authorities in order to fight all practices of labor discrimination and abuse, and to encourage all New Yorkers to come forward to denounce them, and claim their rightful lost wages. New York City is home to a significant number of Mexican and Latin American nationals who are not only very much integrated and embedded into the fabric of American society, but also key contributors to their economy and frontline during any crisis. We are living exceedingly difficult times, but supporting the migrants in the region, will undoubtedly help New York City to recover from these extraordinary circumstances,” said Jorge Islas, Consul General of Mexico and President of the Coalition of Latin American Consuls in New York.

Jennifer Sun, Co-Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality said, “We at AAFE would like to thank Comptroller Stringer for ensuring that workers receive the wages they are owed, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, when so many low-income families are struggling financially. Through good economic times and bad, employers must meet their obligations to the hard-working men and women who make our city run day in and day out, often at their own peril. AAFE is looking forward to partnering with the Comptroller’s Office to make sure all of our communities know about this important campaign to return unclaimed wages.

"AAFE applauds Comptroller Stringer’s efforts to make sure workers receive the wages they are owed, especially when they are working on capital projects and in buildings that benefit from City funding. All too often, immigrant and low-income workers suffer the impact of employers failing to meet their obligations under city contracts. AAFE is fully committed to working with the Comptroller’s Office to get the word out in our communities, and to combat wage theft in New York City at every turn.”

“The Alliance South Asian American Labor (ASAAL) is always fighting for the workers rights and for pay equity – equal pay for equal work! Workers must be paid the exact amount of money that is due to them. Wage theft is a serious crime and we all must do everything in our power to protect the workers in getting their fair share of pay that they earned. It is important that every worker irrespective of their immigration status, race, and color should be paid what is due to them. ASAAL will work with our people’s Comptroller Scott Stringer, all labor-based groups, and our concerned citizens to put an end to wage theft once and for all,” said Maf Misbah Uddin, Founder and President of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor.

“Workers across the City continue to be cheated out of their hard-earned wages. We applaud Comptroller Stringer for taking each and every step to identify the workers who are owed thousands of dollars in compensation. We will continue to work hand in hand with the Comptroller to combat wage theft across the city,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change.

“Workers, who have always been vulnerable, are hurting more than ever, and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has barely begun. It is even more critical in this economic climate that contractors who take public dollars do right by their workers and pay their workers fairly. We strongly support Comptroller Stringer leadership in holding publicly funded contractors accountable and striving to return 2.5 million in unclaimed wages to workers. We are happy that workers now have an opportunity to claim their lost wages and we will work with our pan-Asian member agencies to spread the word to the Asian community,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation.

About the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law and How Prevailing Wage Enforcement and Collection Works

The Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law enforces prevailing wage and benefit rates for construction workers employed by City contractors on public work projects. Public work projects include construction, repair and renovation of City-owned facilities such as public schools, City parks, streets, subway stations, police stations and fire houses. The Bureau also enforces prevailing wage and benefit rates for building service employees such as security guards and cleaners when they are employed by City contractors in public schools and other City buildings, or when they are employed in certain buildings that receive property tax exemptions or receive financial assistance from City government.

When the Bureau receives a complaint — or otherwise has reason to believe that an employer on one of these projects is not paying the correct wage or benefits — it launches an investigation. If the company is not in compliance, the Bureau makes a finding as to how much workers have been underpaid, regardless of whether those particular workers have filed complaints with the office. The Bureau does not inquire into the immigration status of workers because they are entitled to prevailing wages on these projects regardless of immigration status.

The Bureau will either settle with the employer or go to trial against the employer — and issue an order after the trial that requires payment to the Bureau for safekeeping of the unpaid wages and benefits, with interest. The Bureau then notifies awarded workers with instructions on how to collect their money. Unclaimed awards are held by the Comptroller’s Office until entitled workers can be found.

Workers must provide basic information to Bureau of Labor Law staff about themselves and the companies they worked for on the City projects. Workers can also check the Comptroller’s website at www.comptroller.nyc.gov/wages for a list of all workers with unclaimed prevailing wage awards and for more information about the Bureau.

For more information contact the Labor Law hotline at (212) 669-4443, [email protected] or visit www.comptroller.nyc.gov/wages

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