Workers Protest Gables
WDP wants developer to ensure its subs pay fair wages
By Amy Kamp, Fri., Nov. 21, 2014
Last night, Nov. 19, construction workers and other supporters of labor standards gathered in front of Gables Park Tower for a candlelight vigil. The vigil, organized by Workers Defense Project, was part of a campaign asking Gables to do better by the workers on its sites.
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 8am to 3pm 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.
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.