Brigid Bergin, Reporter
Brigid Bergin is the City Hall and politics reporter for WNYC.
City Comptroller John Liu announced a $1.2 million settlement on behalf of building workers from four city sites and called on those workers to come forward to collect their unpaid wages.
"We're encouraging these workers to call our office," said Liu, explaining that many of the workers had been misled into thinking that the Inspectors from the Comptroller's office were actually immigration agents. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The case involves contracts between the city’s Housing and Preservation and Development department and three construction management firms that hired the contractor Mascon Restoration to perform demolition, carpentry and masonry work.
An inspection by the Comptroller's office found that Mascon was underpaying its employees.
In New York State, labor laws apply to all workers regardless of immigration status, said Liu. In New York City, the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law is responsible for enforcing New York State Labor Laws 220 and 230, which require private sector contractors engaged in public works projects to pay no less than the prevailing wage to their employees.
In 2007, investigators from the Comptroller’s office conducted sweeps of various HPD sites for possible violations of prevailing wage laws. This settlement relates to evidence found at 212-214 West 108th Street, 484 Convent Street, 1801 Seventh Avenue and 525 West 134th Street.
Under the settlement, Mascon and the construction management firm paid $1,178,323 to the Comptroller's office for wage violations. Of that amount, $107,120 is payment to the city's general fund as a civil penalty.
The Comptroller’s office also referred the case to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, where Mascon agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge related to its failure to pay prevailing wages and falsifying payroll records. The company and its owner will also be barred from city and state public works projects for the next five years.
In addition to the financial settlement with Liu's office, the contractor will also be forced to pay $75,000 the Manhattan district attorney's office for the cost of the investigation and prosecution and $243,880 to the New York State Department of Labor for underpayment of unemployment insurance.
So far, only three workers have come forward from these sites. Those individuals are expected to divide about $288,000, according to Constantine P. Kokkoris, the bureau chief for the Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law. The office estimates 10-20 others worked at these locations. The office is currently holding about $788,000 for workers who have not yet come forward under this settlement.
Workers who want to file a claim can call the Comptroller’s office at 212-669-4443. All calls are confidential.
Liu, who has been weathering questions surrounding his campaign’s fundraising practices, kept on topic Wednesday. Before the press conference even started, Liu's new communications director, Peter Thorne, told reporters that there would be no off topic questions.
"We are focused on prevailing wage and cracking down on labor violations and more importantly we're trying to get money for workers who have been cheated," Thorne said. "This is a strictly focused news conference on prevailing wage and helping these immigrant workers get money that's owed them. There will be no off topic questions."
After the press conference, Liu was asked for his reaction to City Council Member and Comptroller candidate Daniel Gardonick’s charge that his office was distracted. The current comptroller stuck to his talking points, focusing on the wage announcement, completed audits and pension investments.
“We’re firing on all cylinders,” Liu said.