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Making a GC Pay Up- BDN Sits Down With a Labor Representative


Labor representative, Angel Esparza, looks on during heated conversation with A and R superintendent

BDN was recently provided with video from a Carpenters Union representative that gives us a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes in the battle to shut down cheating contractors and protect the rights of innocent workers. He took a moment to guide us through what we were watching and explained the process involved.


Angel Esparza is a Business Representative with the Western State Regional Council of Carpenters and one of his many duties is to investigate Incidences of worker exploitation and wage theft. Once he has identified a jobsite where he has intel that workers are being victimized, the clock begins ticking and Esparza begins the process of building a case.


He emphasizes a thorough investigation and documentation is necessary in bringing unscrupulous contractors to justice. “Before approaching labor officials, evidence must be clear with times, dates, and witnesses in order,” he says.


The Video


In this case, Esparza received a call from a construction worker on a mixed-use development in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, called Haven and Arrow. He had previously spoken with him as part of a nonunion jobsite check (Esparza routinely passes out his card encouraging workers to call if they are experiencing any issues.) The worker told Esparza that there was a problem- that contractor Sahara Construction had no money in their bank account and that some of his co-workers had been waiting weeks, some even months to get properly paid. Esparza expressed incredulity at the situation, “I know the superintendent at A and R construction, the GC on the project. I spoke with him before they were first bidding out the project. And I mean look it’s okay to not use union guys, not ideal but fine. But when you bring on a sub that screws their guys over leaving them struggling to put food on their kids’ plate, pay rent, or even pay for gas to get to work, we have a problem.”


A worker has his paycheck returned for lack of funds

As a first step, Esparza took testimonials from the workers who were willing to go on record. These interviews demonstrate the severity of what they are experiencing at the hands of their employer and the desperation becomes evident story after story. The interviewees tell Esparza of how far behind some of them are in getting paid. “We are too afraid to say anything because we are so easily replaceable or for some of us it can be worse,” one of the workers tells Esparza to which he assures them that their identities will be concealed. In the video, he goes along with them on payday to cash checks and witnesses firsthand as the bank teller informs the workers that there is no money in Sahara’s bank account. 


In the next video Esparza and his team go back to the jobsite to confront the people in charge. In this video, representatives from the general contractor become hostile and unwilling to listen to reason, ultimately driving the team from the premises.


Sahara Representatives, "don't want to hear it."

It Doesn’t Make Sense


Notably, Esparza has footage of the foremen on the site admitting that even he was behind in pay. “The foremen told me that he was multiple checks behind because he wanted to make sure that his guys were getting paid, so he was sacrificing his own well-being for them. There’s a limited pool of money each pay period and it’s first come first served? It just makes no sense and is indicative of bigger issues that we see in these situations, namely not knowing how many guys are on site and having zero accountability. This is the kind of thing we see all the time on these nonunion sites. You have guys not getting paid on an $80 million dollar project? This is not a small project.”


Sahara Construction is not a low-end contractor. They have worked on huge developments in very high-end areas, including in Beverly Hills and throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. The Company showed earnings of $28 million in 2020. “All that money and this is how you operate?” asks the business rep.  


Escalation


Once the evidence is gathered, Esparza will work with legal experts to assess the best course of action. Exploring legal avenues ranging from filing complaints with the labor board, to pursuing litigation, are considered based on the severity of the violations. Esparza says the goal is not only to seek justice for the affected workers but also to ensure that the unscrupulous contractors are held accountable for their actions and do not reoffend. “Unfortunately, these kinds of illegal businesses practices are the scourge of the I.E. (Inland Empire)- the area that I cover. It’s the residential homebuilders primarily. It doesn’t matter the scope of the project, they think that it’s the wild west out here,” laments Esparza.  


Outcome


Esparza's team listens as workers provide testimony

Esparza wants to be clear that once violations are discovered, a conversation is immediately had with the contractor- essentially giving them a chance in his words, “to come clean and make it right.” Despite the resistance from general contractor A and R, Esparza and his team persisted, and the general contractor finally rectified the situation, and everyone was paid. “We even discovered through public records that their sub, Sahara, had their license suspended during the job. After our intervention, they bailed themselves out and paid all their guys and that’s what we wanted. We got workers paid… so we consider this a victory, but we will be keeping an eye on them from here on out, that’s for certain.”


The video provided a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by those fighting on the front lines against worker exploitation. Esparza's dedication to standing up for innocent workers underscores the significance of unions in safeguarding the well-being of not just their members but all trade workers by maintaining integrity within the entire construction industry.


The evidence gathered by Esparza sheds light on the relentless efforts undertaken to combat cheating contractors. The video serves to expose the methods behind exploitative practices and the efforts of investigators like Esparza to ensure fair and just working environments for all.

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