For immigrant workers, it can seem like an uphill battle to secure representation genuinely invested in their interests and concerns.
On May 18, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer showed his support for immigrant workers by presenting checks for work completed on various New York City public schools and the Queens Museum.
This effort provided nearly $1 million in unpaid wages to 33 workers with the majority of Guyanese descent, by North American Iron Works Inc. (NAIW).
“Thirty-three workers, many of them immigrants, were robbed and exploited. Today, we will pay these men the wages they deserve for their work and in doing so, we are sending a message to unscrupulous contractors: we will take action against those who cheat their workers,” Stringer said in a press release.
Steve, who asked to exclude his last name, worked for the NAIW around 12 years. During his time, it was typical for him to be cheated out of wages and it was not until he finally got into the union that he realized the conspiracy by NAIW’s president Abdul Kari.
“I used to work for them and I asked them a couple of times to help me get in the union and he never did. He get his family into the union, why can’t he help us too? We’re all Guyanese together. He said the union is no good so I get into the union on my own. When I get into the union he was very upset with me,” Steve said.
Stringer’s efforts allowed for workers to finally feel valued and respected for their contribution on 12 projects for which NAIW served as a subcontractor between January 2010 to February 2012.
“NAIW took advantage of workers for financial gain and now they are paying for their actions,” Stringer said. “New York is a city of immigrants and a place where if you work hard, you can succeed. To those workers who feel they are being cheated out of their wages — I am here to tell you that my office has your back.”
“I want the people out there to know what these contractors are doing out there. There are other contractors treating people worse than that. Most contractors from the Caribbean that’s what they do. I’m very happy I went ahead and did what I did. The Labor Department worked very hard on my case; when they filed it was 33 of us. They fight for us and got all of us our money,” Steve said.
Stringer launched an investigation exposing that NAIW committed wage theft. NAIW paid non-union workers $16 per hour, a fraction of the wage and benefit rate.
After taking legal action, the comptroller reached a settlement with NAIW requiring them to pay $970,371.24 of which $871,851.96 represents wage and benefit underpayments, $52,311.12 represents interest and $46,208.16 is payable to New York City as a civil penalty.
Kari, is also barred from bidding on or being awarded any public works contracts with the state or New York City as contractor or subcontractor for five years,