- Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Manhattan district attorney, announced last week that he and officials in surrounding New York counties have charged area construction companies and their owners with stealing more than $2.5 million in wages from more than 400 construction workers, according to The New York Times.
- This wage theft manifested through bounced checks, paying hourly rates that did not meet the prevailing wage, refusal to compensate workers for overtime or simply not paying them at all. The amounts not paid per construction company ranged from $13,000 to $700,000.
- Officials said immigrant workers, often hired as day laborers or through other casual means, are three times more likely to be victims of wage theft, and tend not to report it either because of language barriers or because they fear reprisal due to their illegal status. Immigrant worker advocates said that the New York City construction boom of the last few years has created more opportunities for ill-intentioned contractors to commit wage theft and fraud.
Vance's office formed the Construction Fraud Task Force in 2015 after 22-year-old immigrant construction worker Carlos Moncayo died in a trench collapse while working on a jobsite in Manhattan. The group investigates safety hazards as well as construction-related fraud like intentional nonpayment of prevailing wages, union benefits and workers' compensation premiums.
Wage theft is not limited to New York City. The Texas-based Workers Defense Project interviewed construction workers in six cities in five southern states and found that 57% earned less than $15 per hour and received no benefits. Nonprofit workers' advocacy group Polaris reported that misclassification of employees as independent contractors added to the problem of worker exportation in the U.S. as well.
When workers are categorized as independent contractors, construction companies do not pay into social security or Medicare on their behalf, nor do they usually pay overtime rates or provide unemployment benefits, workers' compensation or health insurance coverage.
Nashville, which had the highest rate of injuries of the six cities in the study, is featured in the Workers Defense Project report. One in four of the Nashville workers interviewed told researchers that they had been injured at least once in their careers, but that number could be higher because employers sometimes discouraged workers from reporting injuries, the study noted.