Three day laborers from Westchester County have won their case in federal court against wage theft. Their attorney calls it a milestone case.
Robert McCreanor is legal director for the Worker Justice Center of New York and lead attorney on the case.
“This case stands out for the magnitude of the wages that were stolen from these workers, and also for the duration of the case and the fact that it was ultimately decided in federal court by a jury,” McCreanor says.
He says the three men, whose immigration status he declined to detail, worked for general contractor TDL Restoration, for three years. A request for comment from TDL was not returned in time for this broadcast. Nadia Marin-Molina is co-executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
“So we think that these three workers in filing and in winning this case against their employer are sending a strong message to employers of day laborers that they can’t exploit their workers, not pay them and expect to get away with it,” Marin-Molina says.
“In some respects, our labor laws are good in that they are intended to penalize employers who don’t pay their workers. And so those damages add up. And, ultimately, that resulted here in a really sizeable jury verdict,” McCreanor says. “We’re still waiting for finalization of the damages amount from the court, but it appears to be just about $373,000 that are owed to these three workers collectively.”
He says the case went to trial after the three plaintiffs rejected a final offer from the company of $125,000 to be paid over five years, much less than the initial $215,000 proposed. McCreanor says the wage theft occurred nearly daily.
“They were required to report often as early as 5 in the morning, but they weren’t paid for those hours. They wouldn’t be paid on the clock until sometimes as late as 9 in the morning. And then they’d work a really long day and, again, at the end of their shift would be required to do additional work for which they were not paid. So this was not an isolated incident in the duration of their employment. This was a way of business for the company,” says McCreanor. “What brought this to our attention is that the workers were also paid with checks that bounced, and that happened many times.”
The three men sought help about two years ago at Catholic Charities Community Services of the Archdiocese of New York, in Westchester County, where Esmeralda Hoscoy is regional director. She says it is their first case to go to federal court and the largest financial amount won.
“In this particular case, and what’s so unique about it is that the men, at every step of the way, said we want to continue to fight for our rights,” Hoscoy says. “You taught us in the ‘Know Your Rights’ presentation, about our rights, justice, and we want to pursue this.”
She says it was a struggle toward the end as the men continued to lose workdays to time spent tending to the case. Catholic Charities assisted the workers through its Day Laborer program, Obreros Unidos de Yonkers, a group of some 500 day laborers. The program educates workers about employment rights and responsibilities to prevent exploitation and workplace abuses, and assists them in several other ways. Hoscoy says the men, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Mexico and another from Guatemala, did not initially comprehend their victory.
“Someone from a foreign country coming to the United States really knowing that they have to put food on the table for their families, and then stepping into federal court, I don’t think they quite grasped when they first won that they had won. I think it was a shock to them, honestly. It needed explanation thereafter, sort of, you won, this is official, you’ve won,” says Hoscoy. “I think it’s hard for them to believe that they’ve won because, while we are so excited as advocates that we’ve reached this far of a point and we’ve reached this goal of winning, for them, winning would be having that paycheck in their bank accounts.
She says more than 200 wage theft claims have come through Catholic Charities since 2011.