Immigrant Construction Workers File Suit to Recover in Unpaid Wages

Posted by AC Team on Tuesday, 12 June 2007.

New York Construction Workers United and AALDEF Launch Campaign to Stop Wage Violations in Trades Jobs

New York, NYFour lawsuits for unpaid wages involving six immigrant construction workers and five contractors were filed today on behalf of the workers by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) in federal and New York State court. The workers, all members of New York Construction Workers United (NYCWU), say that after long hours of work in dangerous conditions, they were sent home without pay. The legal action signifies the growing organizing among South Asian laborers, a relatively new, but fast growing ethnic workforce in New York City s massive construction industry.

NYCWU and AALDEF held a press conference earlier today with the workers.

Kalvinder Samra, a Sikh immigrant from India , performed masonry and construction work at a public school in Queens over the course of nine weeks in 2004. For his work, Mr. Samra was paid only $1,000 by his contractor employer. Our incomes are low. Sometimes we have to work with our bare hands because the contractor wont give us equipment. And there is so much discrimination in who gets hired, so we dont always get steady work, said Mr. Samra. Mr. Samra also says that physical threats and harassment on the job are common. He hopes that other workers will see his coming forward as a sign that they must also. We have to fight together for justice and real change in our industry.

Balvinder Singh, a Sikh immigrant from India and resident of Queens, performed steam cleaning, pointing, and roofing work at a large residential building in the Bronx over the course of two months in 2005 and 2006. Although Mr. Balvinder Singh was promised over $15,000 for his work, he was paid only $3,000.

Kahz Ahmed, a Bangladeshi immigrant and resident of Brooklyn , performed cement wall and roof repair and painting work over the course of one year in 2002 and 2003. He is owed over $12,000 in back wages by his contractor employer.

Jaswinder Singh, Gurdev Singh, and Darshan Singh, all Sikh immigrants from India and residents of Queens , performed pointing, masonry, caulking, and masking work at a VA Hospital. Their contractor employer paid them only for less than half of the days that they worked.

Javaid Tariq, Director of NYCWU, says the cases will be filed simultaneously as the start of a campaign for massive legal action against trades violations. There are many problems, but the solution is one, and that is unity and organization. Mr. Tariq says NYCWU, an independent, membership organization, will provide legal services, training and legal support to all non-union trades workers.

These four cases are just the surface in an industry where there is deep exploitation of workers, says attorney Tushar J. Sheth, AALDEF Staff Attorney. Although violations are prevalent, the law is clear in protecting construction workers right to be paid for all of their labor at the wages they are contractually promised. Mr. Sheth says many contractors not only fail to pay workers the wages they are promised, but also violate minimum wage laws by paying below the legal rate.

The New York State minimum wage is currently $7.15 per hour. Workers must be paid the overtime rate of one and a half times the regular wage for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. The minimum overtime rate is $10.725 per hour. Workers on government, or public, jobs must be paid at the prevailing wage, which is set by the government for specific types of construction work.

The New York City construction industry generates over $60 billion in gross revenue each year. There are over 250,000 construction workers in New York City , 64% of which are immigrants to the United States . It is estimated that there are thousands of South Asian construction workers in New York City . Only 37% of New York City construction workers are unionized. The vast majority of non-union work is done by immigrants.

Mr. Tariq says immigrant trades men and women often live in the same home or neighborhood as the contractors for whom they work and are afraid of getting blacklisted from jobs and isolated from the community if they come forward. Many workers also have immigration concerns and are afraid of retaliation around their status. Attorneys and organizers say that with organization and legal action, construction workers can be protected against the violations and retaliation. We want every worker to know that regardless of immigration status, we all have a right under the law to just wages and safe work conditions, says Mr. Tariq. And we want contractors to know that we will hold them accountable to the law. Workers are not alone, NYCWU is here.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.

New York Construction Workers United (NYCWU) seeks to protect the rights of immigrant construction workers in New York City through community organizing and outreach, education and advocacy, and legal services.