Cesar, a construction worker who asked that we not use his last name, tells The Florida Independent he has not been paid after working eight weeks at a construction project in the Broward County city of Sunrise. He says at least 50 workers who work 10 hours or more a day on this project have not received their wages for anywhere from three weeks to two months.
The project, called Northwest Gardens, consists of 150 new townhomes and apartments designed for working families. The site was active on Monday, with cement trucks coming in and out and several dozen workers carrying out different tasks.
The Northwest Gardens project is managed by BJ&K Construction, Inc. A BJ&K employee who did not give his name spoke with the Independent at the site. He said the workers “need to hire a lawyer,” and that BJ&K subcontracted with a company called Florida Shell Construction, Inc., which then subcontracted with Pozo Construction to hire the workers.
According to its website, BJ&K is “a full service General Contractor, as well as one of the largest multi-family builders in the State of Florida,” and a member of organizations like the Florida East Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel published a photo in February of “Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom, Mayor Jack Seiler and Commissioner Bobby DuBose toss[ing] some dirt in northwest Fort Lauderdale at the Northwest Gardens apartments,” alongside “Housing Authority board members Shirley Carson and James Camp.”
Cesar worries that if workers hire a lawyer, the case could drag out in the courts. “In the meantime, we are going hungry,” he says.
The BJ&K employee told the Independent that Florida Shell Construction gave the company paperwork to verify that Pozo Construction has a contractor’s license. He also said that BJ&K did not learn until last Friday that most of the site’s workers are undocumented and not authorized to work in the U.S.
A Florida Shell representative who declined to give her name told the Independent the company sub-contracted with David Sonk of Pozo Construction, and it is Pozo’s responsibility to make payroll. Florida Shell is owned by Enrique Perez.
Sonk tells the Independent that Florida Shell has not paid Pozo, and that the company delayed a $70,000 check to cover payroll for over two weeks.
“I’m the third contractor that has not been paid by Florida Shell,” Sonk says. He says that when he requested $40,000, the company gave him $30,000; when he requested $50,000, Florida Shell gave him $40,000; and that under those conditions he could not keep working.
Sonk says he hired as many as 50 men to work 60 hours a week for about eight weeks, at $12 an hour, due to pressure from BJ&K and Florida Shell, who demanded the workers.
Sonk says that the “workers told [him] they were authorized,” and admits he never asked to see any documents to prove they were authorized to work in the U.S. Sonk says he paid the workers in cash and kept no payroll records.
Another worker, who is owed more than three weeks in wages and asked that his name not be used, tells the Independent that between 40 and 50 workers are owed anywhere from $1,600 to $3,500. He says that workers are paid in cash, that most are undocumented and that security at the work site recently threatened them by saying they would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they went to demand their wages.
The man says that last Friday about 30 workers went to the office of Florida Shell to discuss their wages with owner Enrique Perez, who told them they should hire a lawyer to get their wages and that he was not going to pay them. According to the worker, Perez told them that they had to get their wages from Pozo Construction.
Cynthia Hernandez, a research associate at the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University, has extensively studied wage theft. She writes in an email to the Independent that practices like those alleged by the Sunrise workers is “very common”:
Small contractors to even large corporations like Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have used this method to not pay employees. It happens a lot in construction because there are so many different levels of contractors and subs, which make it even harder for the worker to identify ultimately who is responsible for their pay. I have even heard of sub-contractors (employers) who have been stiffed out of their cut by contractors and as a result, have been late or unable to pay their employees. Until we can actually get some enforcement, this will continue to happen.
Another Northwest Gardens worker, Andres (who also asked that we not use his last name), tells the Independent a group of workers are meeting a lawyer in Miami on Monday afternoon to discuss filing a lawsuit to have their wages paid.
Photos taken at the site today: