Denver Laborers Awarded $800K for Unpaid Wages and Discrimination
More than 150 workers who helped install drywall in a new luxury high-rise in Denver have been awarded $800,000 in settlement funds after winning a class action lawsuit over unpaid wages and discrimination originally filed by nine of the employees.
The complaint alleged that four drywall contractors working on SkyHouse paid extremely low wages to laborers and denied them overtime pay for excessively long work weeks. According to the complaint, sometimes the laborers were not paid for the hours they worked at all and they often worked up to 60 to 70 hours per week. Many were also subjected to sexual and racial discrimination while on the job.
Last month, The Circle Group, a national drywall subcontractor based in Atlanta, though never admitting fault, agreed to pay $700,000 to the case’s nine named plaintiffs and other pool members. Officials with Towards Justice, which was among several groups that helped bring the case to court, said that the workers would also be awarded approximately $100,000 from a separate drywall contractor. Essentially, all laborers who installed drywall and others who cleaned up the site between September 2015 and July 2016 will be eligible to get about $200 for every week they worked on the project. The nine plaintiffs who filed the case will be awarded an additional $1000 each.
“This is an important victory, but in some ways it’s small,” said Nina DiSalvo, executive director of Towards Justice. “That’s because every day at Towards Justice, workers call us because they believe themselves to be victims of wage theft. It is a humongous problem. We see it in industries across our economy.”
“The construction industry here in Denver is out of control,” veteran carpenter and Colorado Carpenters representative Juan Arellano said. “Payroll fraud and wage fraud, tax fraud, is common on a majority of the projects here in Denver and the surrounding area.”
Cesar Salazer was one of the plaintiffs. Even though he was putting in 12- to 16-hour days on the job, seven days a week, he feared he would not be paid at all for his efforts.
“I was just trying to keep up with my 40 hours. At least give me my 40 hours. I have people at home relying on me,” Salazar said, recalling that he had to tell his son he couldn’t take him to McDonald’s because he didn’t have enough money. “It never came out to more than $300 a week, and we were putting in some serious hours from Monday to Sunday. They would hold that money hostage to make us come in and work Sundays.”
Representatives from the Colorado Carpenters union, an arm of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, visited the SkyHouse during construction to advise workers of their legal rights and helped connect Salazar with Towards Justice. Ultimately, the workers’ courage to speak up paid off. They took a chance when most never think twice about their circumstances or simply believe they don’t have a voice against industry giants.
“It sends a message to contractors that they can’t isolate themselves financially by contracting out to shady companies,” Towards Justice attorney, David Seligman, said of the settlement.