2012-10-19 / Top Stories

Unclaimed Work Wages Site Up And Running

City Comptroller John C. Liu has launched a website that will enable workers who were paid less than the prevailing wage on City public works projects to search online for the money they are owed. The Comptroller’s office routinely collects funds from settlements with offending contractors. Currently, $2 million remains unclaimed.

“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,” Liu said.

The new website features a confidential search tool accessible to the public. Investigations by the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law indicated that some workers didn’t file claims with the Comptroller’s office because of the misapprehension that doing so would subject them to immigration enforcement. According to New York State law, workers employed on public works projects are entitled to prevailing wages regardless of immigration status.

Labor law data shows that immigrant Latino workers are some of the most exploited in terms of substandard wages and a lack of occupational safety. A great many of the underpaid workers for whom money has been collected have been Latinos.

Past practices to locate workers consisted of publishing names in newspapers in hopes that the workers would see their names and contact the Comptroller’s office. The website simplifies the claims process, allowing workers to conveniently search an online, userfriendly database.

Since 2010, the Comptroller’s office has collected some $12 million in unpaid prevailing wages and benefits for New York workers — a record high. At present, a total of 723 workers have not claimed their unpaid wages – 552 of whom whose last known address was in the five boroughs. Most payouts are for more than $1,000, with the upper range at $59,000.

In April, Liu collected $1.2 million for workers who had been cheated out of their pay. To date, more than $600,000 of that settlement remains unclaimed.

In another recent 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.

Prevailing wage settlements that are not claimed within six years revert to the City’s treasury.

“The Consulate General of Mexico has worked closely with the Comptroller’s office, and will continue to do so in defending the labor rights of migrant workers,” said Carlos M. Sada, Consul General of Mexico in New York. “We recognize Comptroller Liu’s commitment toward the most vulnerable of New Yorkers and celebrate the success of our joint mission. We want our community to know that they can count on the Consulate and the Comptroller’s office to report abuse and file complaints without fear, and we will continue to assist the Comptroller in locating those Mexican workers who are eligible for the compensation he has obtained on their behalf.”

“The hard-working men and women who build New York City’s public works projects are literally laying the foundation for our City’s future,” said NYC Council member and Civil Service and Labor Committee Chair James Sanders Jr. “It’s an outrage that they should be paid anything less than the prevailing wage for the work they do on behalf of the future residents of New York. Now these workers can be compensated, offering them the opportunity to conduct a confidential search to learn if they are owed any money. With $2 million in funding outstanding, it’s clear that many workers were never a dequately paid for the work they did. I encourage anyone who was not paid a prevailing wage for work on a public project to take advantage of this opportunity and be made whole again by the City you helped to build.”

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