Workers Fight Unpaid Holiday (Inn)

Construction workers stiffed on pay – and wait for restitution

On Thursday afternoon, Aug. 4, Workers Defense Project, which advocates for area low-wage workers, led a demonstration attended by about 100 people at the Holiday Inn Austin Midtown (near Highland Mall) on behalf of a dozen construction workers who say they've been denied more than $10,000 in wages for January and February remodeling work on the hotel, nominally for a San Antonio-based subcontractor, Mely's Construction. WDP filed a mechanic's lien against the property on the workers' behalf and has been in negotiations with the hotel and the general contractor, Florida-based Artistic General Contracting, since March. According to documented correspondence, the workers have been given repeated assurances of payment – payments that have never arrived.

"The job is done, the rooms look really great," said drywaller Heladio Liborio in a statement released by WDP. "They raised their rates and are benefitting from the remodel but we've received nothing." Liborio said he is owed two weeks' wages. "It's been hard to pay my rent, bills and take care of my family."

In an Aug. 4 demand letter to the companies, WDP wrote, "The failure to compensate ... the workers is a violation of labor law and is simply unjust." In response to continuing delays in resolving the dispute, the decision was made to organize the demonstration, "to make public Holiday Inn's renovation and its raising of rates – with work built by unpaid wages."

Holiday Inn Midtown general manager Jeff Erickson did not return a call requesting comment. In April, AGC attorney Braxton Wiggs wrote the WDP, "Artistic wants nothing more than to make sure the workers get paid." But in a June 22 letter (provided by AGC Executive Vice President Stevyn Muller), Wiggs blamed the (now unresponsive) subcontractor for the dispute, said the proposed payment was too high, and accused the workers of causing damage to the hotel rooms. The letter offered the workers two options: 1) Either provide newly notarized affidavits with full identification (i.e., Social Security numbers or green cards) in return for full payment, or 2) accept 70% of the money owed with no additional documentation. "We gave them two options, and they did not respond," Muller told the Chronicle this week. "It's unfortunate, but we certainly hope that Workers Defense Project begins to engage in more responsible behavior than what they're currently doing, so that any workers can be paid their just wages, whatever they are." (In fact, the correspondence between the parties reflects additional recent attempts by WDP to comply with the contractors' demands.)

WDP argues that the original, notarized lien is sufficient documentation and called the continuing delay and the demands for more identification attempts to "intimidate" the workers and avoid a just resolution. Its Aug. 4 letter to Holiday Inn reads, "if we are unable to reach a fair resolution within 21 days (August 25th, 2011) the workers may pursue further legal action."

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