Workers Protest Gables

Claim developer isn't holding subcontractors accountable

Heriberto Mendoza is one of the eight men trying to recover lost wages.
Heriberto Mendoza is one of the eight men trying to recover lost wages.

Tomorrow evening at 8pm, Nov. 19, construction workers and other supporters of labor standards will gather in front of Gables Park Tower for a candlelight vigil. The vigil, organized by Workers Defense Project, will call on Gables to do better by its workers.

Eight painters claim they’re owed, collectively, $8,500 in unpaid wages for the work they did on the Gables project late last year and earlier this year. The men, who were employed by subcontractor Flores Painting Services LLC, painted interiors in the Tower, often working between 50 and 60 hours per week. Because the company had misclassified them as independent contractors, it paid no overtime.

Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor is not an uncommon practice among unscrupulous employers. It allows them to avoid the requirements that having employees brings, such as paying employment taxes, workers’ compensation, and overtime wages. However, the IRS makes the distinction between an independent contractor and an employee fairly clear, “The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”

In this instance, not only did the workers not have control over how the work was to be done, but they also say that the work site was one of the worst they’ve encountered. In a statement prepared for the WDP, Jaime Silvino Garcia says, “The subcontractor ... would always push us to work faster, even though we were already working without breaks. On weekends, we would work from 8:00am to 3:00pm without even a break for lunch. We kept asking when we were going to get lunch, and we were told, ‘We don’t do breaks here.’ The only breaks we got were restroom breaks. And there were water jugs on site, but there was no water in them.”

The men, one of whom was already a member of WDP, turned to the organization for help after they discovered they weren’t getting overtime. They filed a mechanic’s lien on the general contractor to recover some of their lost wages, but, because a lien can only be filed for two months of wages, they haven’t yet been able to collect all of the money owed them.

WDP believes that Gables could prevent this sort of abuse by agreeing to take part in their “Build It Better” program, which holds developers to certain standards, such as providing a living wage, maintaining safe working conditions, and investing in workforce training. Despite the participation of other developers – including Foundation Communities, Pflugerville Community Development Corporation, and Saltillo Collaborative – and repeated protests calling on Gables to join the program, the Atlanta-based developer has thus far declined.

For more information about the vigil, visit Vigil for Working Families on Facebook.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly included Apple among the companies participating in the Build It Better program. Apple has agreed to specific standards recommended by WDP, but is not officially a Build It Better partner.

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Workers Defense Project, Gables Park Tower

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