NYC Comptroller Launches Website to Help Undocumented Workers Claim Back Wages Without Fear of Deportation
New York City Comptroller John Liu has announced the launch of a website to help 723 workers who have not claimed back wages owed to them under prevailing wage laws. A total of $2 million remains uncollected and much of it is for Latino workers who fear that trying to collect will expose them to deportation.
In a press release from the Office of the Comptroller, Liu notes that workers are entitled to receive back pay from city projects no matter their immigration status. Back wages are held for six years by the Office of the Comptroller. If unclaimed they then go to the City Treasury.
“Contractors working on City projects must pay prevailing wages as required under the law. This website puts power back in the hands of workers and helps to right the wrongs they’ve suffered,” Comptroller Liu said.
Exploitation of undocumented construction workers is unacceptable. Contractors often use the fear of deportation to cheat them out of wages. The Office of the Comptroller gives the following example:
A claimant collected $20,000 in back wages for work he had performed as a painter at police precincts and fire stations. Although his checks for the work were issued in prevailing wage amounts, the worker had never received his full wages. His employer had forced him to endorse his checks and return them each week, paying him a daily rate of $100 in cash. He recouped the back wages after the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law helped him file a claim.
NYS Assembly Member Francisco Moya weighed in on wage theft and its effects on the immigrant community.
“All too often, employers take advantage of workers, especially through wage theft. In the immigrant community, this happens at alarming rates and goes unreported because of fear and a lack of understanding of the process for claiming funds. We must find every way we can to guarantee that all workers, whatever their immigration status, are given the opportunity to receive a fair wage for an honest day’s work. This website will make accessing the funds owed to workers much easier and give workers the opportunity to claim funds they might not even know they were owed. It is the responsibility of elected officials to promote this new database and make sure we are being strong advocates for our constituents.”
Wage theft in New York has become all too common, but enforcement appears to be picking up as well. A federal judge recently ruled in favor of a group of immigrant workers in Queens who had been cheated out of wages for nearly six years. The workers who received over $1 million in back wages were helped by Focus on the Food Chain, a coalition promoting good jobs in the city’s growing food processing and distribution sector.
At the end of last month a federal judge awarded a group of immigrant workers nearly $1 million in unpaid wages for work at Beverage Plus, a Queens-based beverage distributor.
The warehouse workers and truck drivers, mostly Latino, endured years of violation of state and federal law by their employer, before bringing the class action suit.
“My co-workers and I were deprived of our pay and badly exploited but we finally learned about our rights,” said Richard Merino, who drove a delivery truck at Beverage Plus for six years and was a named plaintiff in the case. “We stood up together, and now justice has arrived for us and more importantly for our families.”
Merino and his fellow Beverage Plus employees worked as many as 12 hours a day, receiving no overtime and having money illegally deducted from their pay.
The fact that some workers will recover as much as $169,000 gives a clear idea of the magnitude of the abuse they suffered.
NOTE: Workers who feel they have been cheated out of fair wages for work they have done on city owned property can contact the Bureau of Labor Law at (212) 669-4443. All calls are confidential.