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Wage Theft Reportedly Prevalent Amongst Black and Latino Nonunion Construction Flaggers

An Investigation by New York Focus and City and State found that wage theft is rampant with Black and Latino nonunion flaggers. Flaggers are workers who keep construction projects safe by directing traffic around sites.

Wage discrepancies on job sites nationwide show that unionized workers make on average 22% more than workers without representation. Statistics show that in New York, 45% of unionized workers are White while only 25% of nonunion workers are White. Taking all of this into account, the reality for workers of color especially flaggers, is sobering.

One of the subjects of the investigation, Victor Ballast, a nonunion construction flagger from the Dominican Republic, began asking questions on a job site and did not like what he discovered. He was working on a Con Edison project and immediately realized that something was amiss.

Ballast noticed that there was a two-tier system. All of his fellow flaggers were Black or Latino—and nonunion, while the other construction workers, appeared to to be mostly White and all unionized. He noticed that the unionized workers, "can go to lunch, they could leave, they could stay in their cars. And the flaggers got to be out there until the hole is closed,” he said. He was making $13.50 an hour with zero benefits. He found out that prevailing wage laws in New York dictated that flaggers be paid $42 an hour; he was furious.

He also realized that his pay stubs did not add up and he was not being paid for travel time during the day between job sites. He was a victim of wage fraud.

in 2020 Ballast and a group of co-workers had had enough and sought representation with attorney, Brent Pelton. The flaggers filed a class action lawsuit against employer Griffin LLC and Con Edison to recover their unpaid prevailing wages, daily overtime and supplemental benefits.

Ballast said of his fellow flaggers, “they would work like 100 hours a week, and at the end of the week, they would get $1,300. They were happy with it, but they were not even counting the hours they were spending at the job,” he said. “A good job is when you work less than 40 hours and you could go home and take care of your family.”

Construction flagging is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Data shows that the on-the-job death rate for flaggers is 10 times higher than the national average. "You in charge of everybody’s safety, so the responsibility and the risk you’re taking don’t even match up with what you’re making,” Ballast said.

Read full story on New York Focus and City and State

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