The Related Companies: Racism and Discrimination

The Related Companies and Equinox, a gym chain owned by Related Companies, have histories of alleged racist practices and discriminatory treatment of formerly incarcerated individuals from marginalized communities, allegations which have been criticized by the NAACP New York State Conference and by leaders from the reentry community.  Currently pending against the companies are Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints filed by former employees of Trade Off Construction, a subcontractor of Related Companies, and a lawsuit filed by a potential Equinox employee on behalf of himself and other applicants with criminal justice histories.

Related Targets Successful Re-Entry Worker

In 2018, the Related Companies hired a private investigator to trail Eric Smokes, a formerly incarcerated African American concrete laborer, as part of its effort to expose unions for “thuggish tactics” and disparage them for paying reentry populations a dignified wage. In a June 2018 New York Post article based on Related’s lawsuit and an internal Hudson Yards report, Mr. Smokes was publically shamed in racist and discriminatory ways, all while Related made its case against decent wages for New York City’s working-class.  Mr. Smokes’ criminal record was sensationalized and disclosed in the article, and he was portrayed using an orange-clad mug shot and referred to as a “convicted killer”. In addition, the article deployed racially-charged “coffee boy” rhetoric in order to belittle the role of Mr. Smokes—a fifty-year-old father and grandfather—on the jobsite.

In a public letter, the New York State chapter of the NAACP, The Fortune Society, and Pathways To Apprenticeship, community leaders on re-entry issues, demanded that Related Companies apologize to Mr. Smokes.  The groups described Related’s disparaging treatment of Mr. Smokes as having “historical connotations that are rooted in racism and slavery,” and argued that Related had  “completely [diminished] his job, while showing a lack of understanding and empathy of the working conditions on a high-rise construction site.”

Related 55 Hudson Yards Subcontractor Accused of Racial Discrimination

African American employees of Trade Off, LLC and Trade Off Plus, LLC have filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the NY State Division of Human Rights alleging systematic racial discrimination. Their charges were filed on February 27, 2018. The complaints allege that African Americans laborers were disproportionately segregated into Trade Off, while their other coworkers were with greater frequency assigned to work for Trade Off Plus which provides higher wages and some benefits. In his complaint with the EEOC, one African American employee likened his experience to “a system reminiscent of apartheid.” Employees at Trade Off received a starting hourly wage of $15/hour, while Trade Off Plus employees received a starting hourly wage of $20/hour, as well as some fringe benefits such as a 401k contribution. Related frequently makes use on its jobs of labor supplied by Trade-Off Plus, the entity from which African American workers have allegedly been excluded.

Equinox, a gym chain owned by Related, has been accused of discriminating based on the criminal backgrounds of potential employees.  In late 2017, Hassan Barrow, a personal trainer who applied for a job at Equinox, filed a class action lawsuit against Equniox Holding, Inc. for discrimination based on criminal background.  

While applying for a position as a Personal Trainer at Equinox in Armonk, NY in September of 2017, Mr. Barrow went through a series of interviews and physical demonstrations.  At the end of the process, one of his interviewers told Mr. Barrow that the management team loved his “personality, energy, and knowledge” and offered him the position.  Mr. Barrow describes a forthright conversation during his onboarding process in which he disclosed his criminal record and was told, “As long as you didn’t murder anyone, you’re fine.”

Equinox, however, ultimately withdrew its offer of employment based on the results of a background check.  Moreover, Mr. Barrow was not given a written description of his rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) before Equinox refused to hire him based on the results of its background check, which is required by law under the FCRA.  New York State prohibits discrimination against applicants for their criminal records, unless a criminal offense directly relates to the specific employment sought or involves unreasonable risk.  During his sentence, Mr. Barrow worked as a porter, completed various programming, and had since reintegrated into his community, attending community college, maintaining steady jobs, a residence, and testing negatively for drug use.

The case was settled with no details disclosed.

With the awareness that incarceration and the challenges of reentry disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, Stephen Ross’s firms are exacerbating these inequities by refusing employment to individuals who seek to better their lives through gainful employment. Furthermore, by neglecting to inform applicants of their rights regarding disclosure of criminal record, it would seem the companies are in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

2018-10-18T16:09:12+00:00October 12th, 2018|Discrimination, News|

Related’s Chairman Stephen Ross Sets a Standard of Evading Taxes

Related Companies, its executives and affiliated firms are the beneficiaries of billions of dollars of public subsidies and exemptions at the expense of taxpayers while simultaneously seeking to contribute as little as possible. They have sought to achieve this by various methods, , including underestimating the value of their corporate and personal properties, failing to render taxes due, and in one spectacular case, claiming a charitable deduction of $30 million against a real estate donation purchased for $3 million.

Federal Tax Judge Finds “Gross Valuation Misstatement” by Ross & Partners in Charitable Deduction Claim, Issues Maximum Civil Penalties

A federal tax judge found that Stephen Ross, a former tax attorney and chairman of the Related Companies, and his partners in RERI Holdings overestimated real estate gifted to his alma mater by $30 million when claiming a charitable deduction.  Ross had pledged a total of $328 million to the University of Michigan, which named its business school after him in 2004 after the first $100 million he donated.

The donation that ended up in federal tax court concerned a $5 million pledge by Ross to the athletic center.  Ross and his partners bought stake in a piece of Southern California real estate for $3 million in 2002.  This stake was pledged to the University of Michigan, which sold the stake a few years later for proceeds of $4.3 million.

Ross and his partners then claimed a charitable deduction value worth $33 million.  The deduction was flagged by the IRS and the resulting investigation culminated in a federal tax judge finding that a “gross valuation misstatement” had been made.  The maximum civil penalties were issued against Ross and his partners.  

129 Assessment Appeals to Decrease Taxes

Property taxes, a primary source of revenue for local governments, are paid as a percentage of a property’s assessed value.  By seeking to decrease the assessed value of their properties, Related has aimed to decrease property taxes it must render. 

Related Companies’ controlled entities filed no fewer than 129 petitions against the Tax Commission of the City of New York to appeal their properties’ assessed values for tax year 2017-2018.  In total, Related Companies’ controlled entities sought to reduce their assessed land and building value by $1.3 billion.

Personal Properties Assessment Appeals on Hamptons Homes of Stephen Ross and Bruce Beal

Related Companies President Bruce Beal, Jr. and Chairman Stephen Ross both filed appeals to reduce the assessed value of their properties in Southampton.  Ross tried to have his assessed value reduced from $3.5 million by about $359,000.  Through BPB Holdings, Beal moved to have his property assessed value reduced by about $849,000 from about $8.5 million.

Ten Tax Warrants

Between 2016 and 2018, New York State issued ten tax warrants against Related-controlled entities.  All but two remain open and unsatisfied as of August 30, 2018.  A tax warrant is a legal judgement that may be issued when you owe money to the government.  It creates the equivalent of a lien against a property.

2018-10-18T16:09:20+00:00September 30th, 2018|News, Tax Issues|

Workers’ Comp Coverage Concerns for Concrete Producer at 50 Hudson Yards

Related Companies and at least one of their subcontractors, Brooklyn Ready Mix, have apparently experienced difficulties acquiring, reporting and maintaining Workers’ Compensation Insurance. A basic and essential protection for workers, Workers’ Compensation Insurance protects workers injured while working by ensuring access to medical treatment and compensation for lost work time.  The Miami Dolphins, also owned by Steven Ross, has a history of attempting to curtail workers’ compensation filings. The Miami Dolphins filed a lawsuit against over 80 former players when they attempted to file workers’ compensation claims in California.

At Related’s 50 Hudson Yards, a stop-work order for failing to secure Workers’ Compensation coverage was issued against Prime Mix Corp on August 23, 2018. The subsequent investigation described Prime Mix Corp as doing business as Brooklyn Ready Mix, a concrete producer at 50 Hudson Yards. During the investigation, a Prime Mix Corp representative claimed that the company did have an active workers’ compensation insurance policy, despite the fact that it was not available on the investigators’ coverage database. Days later, an active policy was found for Prime Mix Corp, but with an effective date of 8/13/2018, which lists “SOUTHEAST EMPLOYEE LEASING SERVICES INC” as the insured entity associated with Prime Mix. The new policy demonstrated active coverage on the date of the stop work order, but still evidenced a gap in coverage of 51 days since the cancellation of Prime Mix Corp’s prior policy on June 22, 2018 for ‘Non-Payment’, according to the New York State Insurance Fund.

Despite the stop-work order, Brooklyn Ready Mix continued to work and pour concrete at 50 Hudson Yards. Investigators note in their report that after the stop-work order, they observed the Brooklyn Ready Mix driver continuing to rinse his vehicle and equipment. The driver claimed that he was cleaning to prevent dry cement, because he was previously deducted 2.5 hours for damaging the cement mix and was warned he would be deducted more if it happened again. Additionally, photographic evidence taken from at least 10:58 AM to 1:46 PM documents continued work by Brooklyn Ready Mix in 4 separate vehicles along with associated activity through the trucks’ facilitation of concrete pours. The photographs appear to show the investigators walking the jobsite at approximately 10:51 AM and work continuing by Brooklyn Ready Mix employees after the investigators left the job.

Additionally, the NY Compensation Insurance Rating Board does not list Brooklyn Ready Mix as part of Prime Mix’s Combinable ID, a unique identifier that indicates a shared majority control between entities. Assuming the entities are indeed under separate ownership, then Brooklyn Ready Mix is either improperly working under the workers’ comp policy of Prime Mix Corp or has no policy.

Furthermore, a lawsuit brought by Tilcon New York Inc. against the company alleges that Prime Mix Corp operates as an alter-ego of Sky Materials Corp. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claims that Prime Mix is a “corporate fiction” operating as a means “to perpetrate fraudulent conduct, a means to evade existing financial and legal obligations, and protect to justify a wrong.” The complaint cites two bounced checks issued to Tilcon by Sky Materials Corp as “replacements” for bounced Prime Mix checks in support of the allegation.

Sky Materials Corp has pled guilty to offering a false instrument for filing in connection with a workers’ compensation insurance fraud case brought against the company. The CEO of Sky Materials Corp was also indicted on multiple felony charges for insurance fraud and for offering a false instrument for filing, but his case is ongoing. The NY State Workers’ Compensation Board penalized Sky Materials Corp for $140,000 due to its failure to maintain or produce records from January 1, 2013 to November 9, 2016. The possible connection of Sky Materials Corp to Prime Mix/Brooklyn Ready Mix raises concerns about further possible insurance fraud.

Three entities of Related Companies—Related Management Co., Related Fund Management, and Related Partners—were debarred by the New York State Department of Labor on May 19, 2018 for their violations of workers’ compensation law. This status prohibited the entities from submitting bids or receiving awards for any public work until the violations were resolved. Related Management Co. LP, Related Fund Management LLC, and Related Partners Inc. faced penalties of $22,000, $5,000, and $22,000, respectively. On June 29, 2018 the NYS DOL removed the three entities from the debarment list and rescinded the penalties it had issued for the period of March 1, 2018 to June 18, 2018. A prominent safety advocate remarked that it was a “huge red flag for safety advocates” for a multi-billion dollar company like Related to show up on the debarment list.

Ross’ connection to companies with a track record of disrespecting workers’ rights when injured on the job extends beyond the construction industry in New York City. As the majority owner of the Miami Dolphins, Ross has brought his disregard for workers to Florida.

In 2010, the Miami Dolphins, while owned by Ross, filed a lawsuit against over 80 former players who had submitted workers’ compensation claims to the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. The Dolphins claimed that the players were subject to mandatory arbitration with regard to their  claims for work-related injuries through the Miami Dolphins in Florida.  The New York Times reported in April 2010 that the Dolphins were attempting to “wrest [the players’] cases from California to their own states, where most of the claims would be worth far less or inviable.”

Under state law in Florida, NFL players are not classified as employees and are not protected by workers’ compensation laws. Dolphins players also have strict timeframes for claiming injury: under their contract, players are ‘responsible to report reasonably ascertainable injuries to the Dolphins’ trainers or doctors orally or in writing within 30 days of an incident. If the injury is not apparent at the time sustained, pursuant to Florida law a player has two years from the incident—or one year from a treatment paid for by the Dolphins—to file a workers’ compensation claim.  Brain injuries caused by repeated head trauma—common in football players—may not present themselves within the limited two years Dolphins players have under Florida law.

The Dolphins voluntarily dismissed their case just 24 days after it was filed, and before the defendants even had a chance to file ‘an answer or a motion for summary judgment in this matter.’

2018-10-18T16:10:46+00:00September 20th, 2018|News, Workers' Compensation|

Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Against Related Companies and/or Subcontractors Building its Development Projects

Related Companies has a record of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.  Gross misconduct and sexual assault at Related Apartment Preservation, LLC (RAP), an affordable housing arm of Related, were detailed in a legal filing by a former female employee.  This problem extends to rampant complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct against some companies that Related has used as subcontractors.  Trade Off Construction, ECD NY and Power Design all stand accused of sexual harassment or discrimination.  

Examples of behaviors Related and its subcontractors are accused of allowing and/or encouraging include:

  • A Related subsidiary president jeered as a business associate licked the neck of a resisting female Related employee and told her she smelled like a “sensual woman.”

  • A female employee of Related subcontractor ECD NY, Inc. was told to bring in more “pretty, sexy girls” to hire as flaggers.

  • At Related’s 520 West 30th Street project, a Trade Off foreman would stand outside the bathroom, staring menacingly at a female employee; when she confronted him, he reportedly said,  “Bitch, I do what the fuck I want to do. I don’t know who you think you’re talking to.”

  • After enduring inappropriate comments about her body, her diet, her relationship with her boyfriend, and sexual characteristics of other female employees, a female Power Design worker spoke up to supervisors about the harassment; she recounts being told the comments were “boys being boys,” that she should “keep quiet,” and was eventually terminated.

Related Companies itself is no stranger to sexual harassment complaints.  In 2011 a female analyst filed a sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Related.  The worker detailed multiple sexual assaults that were allegedly condoned or encouraged by her supervisors, Mark Carbone and Matthew Finkle, the president and vice president of a Related affordable housing subsidiary.  

The complaint describes a series of sexual assaults that Carbone apparently openly encouraged and enjoyed observing.  These incidents are alleged to have largely occurred at office parties and networking events.  In various incidents described in legal proceedings, Carbone is said to have watched, cheering and laughing, as the female employee was groped and licked despite her repeated protests.  The employee reported enduring comments like, “You smell like a sensual woman” and being asked if her “ass was tight.”. At an office party, Carbone allegedly harassed the employee to “kiss and make up” with Finkle and told her to loosen up when she resisted.

The employee also describes a hostile workplace rife with sexualized commentary and gender-based discrimination.  Conversations between male employees ranged from describing sexual activity between women and lewd comments they made to women.  According to the Court papers, Finkle and Carbone used derogatory terms to describe women like “pig,” “bitch,” and “douche bag.”.  Finkle also made demeaning remarks about women, including asserting that men were dominant to women and that women were not desirable after having children.  Carbone and Finkle would exclude women from work events they organized.  For example, the complaint alleges that the female employee was excluded from “analyst lunches,” golf-outings, a trip on a private plane to watch a Red Skin football game, and mid-day boozy business lunches.

During court proceedings in the case, Related’s attorney took the position that the company should effectively be given full access to the plaintiff’s Facebook account because it had located pictures showing “Ms. Dorn hanging out, drinks in her hand, posing somewhat provocatively with friends—partying basically.”  In other words, Related sought to defend the claim, in part, by suggesting that the woman’s lifestyle or presentation on social media could explain what she said happened to her.  

The case was settled.  Mathew Finkle has since been promoted to President of Related Affordable.

Trade Off Construction

Female construction employees of Trade Off describes a hostile workplace where sexually harassing behavior is routine. Some of the worst examples of this occurred at 55 Hudson Yards, where a worker claims on multiple occasions her supervisor exposed his penis and/or solicited her for sex. Other reports of harassment included inappropriate sexually demeaning comments, and cat calling.

In a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), a female Trade Off employee describes threatening and demeaning treatment by a Trade Off foreman while working on Related’s 520 West 30th Street project.  The worker had already suffered a miscarriage after working through her pregnancy for fear of losing her job.  Her miscarriage required repeated access to on site bathrooms.  As described in the complaint, the foreman would follow her and stand outside the bathroom menacingly staring at her.  When she confroted the foreman, he reportedly responded, “Bitch, I do what the fuck I want to do.  I don’t know who you think you’re talking to.”  After speaking with her supervisors about these issues, the worker claims she was fired.

ECD NY, Inc.

ECD, NY, currently working at Related’s 501 West 18th Street, Manhattan, is accused by a female employee of sexual harassment and discrimination.  In July 2015, the female employee reports she was directed to find “pretty, sexy girls” to hire as fire guards.  After this comment, the female employee discovered her starting salary of $14 per hour was $6 to $8 less per hour compared to men with fewer credentials, according to her legal filing.  She approached company president Barry McKenna about getting a raise to match her male coworkers pay.  For months, the employee says she was promised a raise that never materialized as she continued to do work that required equal skill and effort as her male coworkers.  When the raise finally was granted, it was only an increase of $2 an hour, leaving her paid still significantly less then what male workers were making.  When the female worker brought this concern to McKenna, she was ignored and ultimately terminated, according to legal filings.  The case is ongoing as of August 31, 2018.

Summonses have been issued to ECD NY, Inc. by two additional female employees under the provisions of N.Y. Labor Law §194, which makes it unlawful to pay employees differently based on sex. 

Power Design

Related Companies’ electrical subcontractor at 909 Half Street in Washington DC was accused of allowing sexual harassment in their office as well as discriminating against a female worker in the field.

A female employee of Power Design who worked in their Florida office filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and civil suit against Power Design. She claimed she was “sexually harassed, embarrassed, abusively demeaned, retaliated, and discriminated against at work” by the Regional Vice President, Robert Dean McMillian.  In the federal complaint, the worker alleges “Power Design has a history of condoning McMillian’s illegal conduct by terminating those who do not acquiesce and its corporate culture creates, tolerates and fosters a sexually hostile work environment which forced employees to silently endure, ignore, and condone discrimination or risk termination.”  

The female worker describes verbal and physical harassment ranging from inappropriate comments about her body, her diet, her relationship with her boyfriend, sexual characteristics of other female employees and inappropriate physical contact.  One example disclosed is Mr. McMillian’s frequent recounting of another employee’s appearance in Girls Gone Wild and consistent inquiries if she had watched the movie yet.

When the female spoke up about this behavior, the complaint describes her concerns as dismissed by Power Design as “mere joke” and “boys being boys.”  The worker was told to “keep quiet” and eventually fired in apparent retaliation.  The complaint states that after her termination, in a team meeting, Mr. McMillian told the rest of the staff to “keep his name out of their mouth, or they will ‘end up like’” the terminated female worker.

The case was stayed following the parties’ agreement to resolved the issue through arbitration.

In another sexual discrimination case, a Power Design female project manager claimed that she was terminated for requesting leave for the birth of her child.  This allegation, if proven, is a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act.  According to the complaint, within four hours of notifying her employer of her intention to request this time off, she was terminated.  The case was eventually dismissed by joint agreement of the parties, presumably based on a settlement.

2018-10-18T16:10:56+00:00September 15th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Sexual Harassment|

Union Busting & Equinox in California

Stephen Ross has shown disrespect for workers’ rights through the actions of his companies.  His disregard for workers’ rights on his Hudson Yards construction site in New York City is reflected in Equinox’s apparent union busting in San Francisco.

In May 2015, SEIU Local 87 filed an election petition covering the employees at three Equinox gyms in San Francisco. The workers voted to unionize by a vote of 41 to 33. The workers at Equinox held a protest on July 17th, 2018, complaining that after three years they still did not have a contract with Equinox. Additionally, the workers claim that Equinox “refuses janitors the same access to water fountains as non-janitor workers;” the janitors are primarily immigrants and people of color. In short, they are fighting for “a cup of water and a fair contract.”

The workers have been fighting Equinox for three years in court.  Despite that the workers voted to unionize, Equinox objected to the results. Equinox cited several issues as the basis for its objection. After studying the case, however, the NLRB Hearing Officer found that one of Equinox’s objections hinged on “ [a] rumor…at most,” and described an Equinox manager’s testimony as being based on “uncorroborated hearsay.” Accordingly, the Regional Director certified the union’s victory. The union subsequently demanded bargaining, but Equinox declined “in order to test the certification.”

The NLRB originally determined that Equinox had violated Sections 8(a)(5) and 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, which correspond to the refusal to bargain in good faith. After reviewing the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that Equinox could not challenge the NLRB’s resolution on two of its objections, and that “given the lack of any evidence” pertaining to the third objection, “the Board did not abuse its substantial discretion in certifying the election results.” In spite of the rulings of both the NLRB and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Equinox has filed an additional case with the NLRB against SEIU Local 87 which is currently ongoing.

2018-10-18T16:11:04+00:00September 10th, 2018|News, Union Busting|

Series of Safety Violations, Pedestrian Injury at 50 Hudson Yards

Department of Buildings Violations Note Hazardous Conditions and Missing Safety Manager

An early track-record of unsafe and hazardous conditions during the initial months of construction of 50 Hudson Yards raises concerns about the safety of workers on the site and the possibility that safety incidents could endanger the timely and responsible completion of work.

The Department of Buildings issued a summons to the general contractor at 50 Hudson Yards for its failure to provide adequate guardrails during excavation. Inadequate guardrails exposed workers to a hazardous falling condition of up to 40 feet. The inspection revealed that guardrails were not fully connected, moved when touched, and were not the required height.

The Department of Buildings inspector also found that during excavation there were not adequate means of egress at 50 Hudson Yards.  The inspector described one narrow path as blocked with “an obstacle course” of machinery, equipment and debris.  Furthermore, during the inspection, both the site safety manager and his alternate were not present and were cited for failing to maintain adequate safety logs. In the next inspection, 50 Hudson Yards’ general contractor was again found in violation during the excavation, this time for failing to conform to the NYC Fire Code.

In a separate incident, a truck reportedly backed into a fire hydrant at 50 Hudson Yards. Calls to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection on the afternoon of August 6th, 2018 describe a “fire hydrant in full blast” at 50 Hudson Yards’ 10th Avenue side with “water shooting everywhere” and the site “unable to turn the water off.” According to a witness, water flooded the site and softened the ground in the surrounding area. An inspection later that day by the Water Maintenance Unit found a hydrant with a “broken valve” that was then put out of service.

Hours later, a pedestrian was injured when his leg became stuck in a hole outside 50 Hudson Yards in proximity to where the reported flooding had taken place. According to a witness, the pedestrian’s leg went “straight through” the ground that had been softened due to the fire hydrant incident earlier that day. Work-site safety is paramount to protect all, both on and off the site.  

PHOTO: A pedestrian’s leg lodged in potential sink hole at 50 Hudson Yards.

2018-10-18T16:11:56+00:00September 5th, 2018|News, Safety Concerns|

DC Attorney General Names Related Companies’ DC Subcontractor ‘Architect’ of Massive Workers Misclassification and Wage Theft Scheme

Related Companies’ electrical subcontractor at 909 Half Street in Washington DC,  Power Design, Inc., was cited on eleven counts regarding worker misclassification and wage theft by the DC’s Attorney General (AG) on August 6, 2018.  As described by the AG, the scheme stripped workers of rights and benefits, created a “race to the bottom” in the industry, and evaded payroll taxes.

The AG’s legal filing described Power Design as the “architect” of this worker misclassification scheme, on which their DC business model was dependent.  Power Design hired “labor brokers” to provide workers, but according to the AG’s suit at least 535 of these workers were misclassified as independent contractors.  

JVA was a labor broker at 909 Half Street.  JVA’s payroll records indicate violations of minimum wage and overtime payments.  According to the AG’s claim, there was “a systemic failure to pay overtime.”  In 2017, 180 employees worked more than 40 hours per week for at least 1,000 work-weeks and were not paid the legally mandated overtime premium..  Additionally, at least 24 individuals working on Power Design jobsites between January 2016 and June 2016, and 39 working between July 2016 and December 2016, were paid a subminimum wage.

This is not the first-time Power Design has faced controversy over labor practices.  The firm has a history of wage theft allegations and sexual harassment lawsuits.  Power Design has settled no fewer than six Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases with workers alleging wage theft, including a $100,900 settlement with 21 Florida workers.

A female employee of Power Design who worked in their Florida office filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and civil suit against Power Design. She claimed she was “sexually harassed, embarrassed, abusively demeaned, retaliated, and discriminated against at work” by the Regional Vice President, Robert Dean McMillian.  In the federal complaint, the worker alleges “Power Design has a history of condoning McMillian’s illegal conduct by terminating those who do not acquiesce and its corporate culture creates, tolerates and fosters a sexually hostile work environment which forced employees to silently endure, ignore, and condone discrimination or risk termination.”  

The female worker describes verbal and physical harassment ranging from inappropriate comments about her body, her diet, her relationship with her boyfriend, sexual characteristics of other female employees and inappropriate physical contact.  Mr. McMillian allegedly frequently spoke of another employee’s appearance in Girls Gone Wild and made consistent inquiries as to whether the plaintiff had watched the movie yet.

When the woman spoke up about this behavior, the complaint describes Power Disking dismissing her concerns as “mere joke” and “boys being boys.”  The worker was allegedly told to “keep quiet” and eventually fired in apparent retaliation.  The complaint states that after her termination, in a team meeting, Mr. McMillian told the rest of the staff to “keep his name out of their mouth, or they will ‘end up like’” the terminated female worker.

The case was stayed following the parties’ agreement to resolve the issue through arbitration.

In another sexual discrimination case, Power Design project manager Nadia Ramirez claimed that she was terminated for requesting leave for the birth of her child.  This allegation, if proven, constitutes a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act.  According to the complaint, within four hours of notifying her employer of her intention to request this time off, she was terminated.  The case was eventually dismissed by joint agreement of the parties, presumably based on a settlement.

FLSA suits against Power Design include:

  1. Six workers brought a civil action against Power Design for failing to pay the overtime premium.  Power Design initially won a favorable judgement on the argument that a private right of action was not available to these workers because the project fell under the Davis-Bacon Act or Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (CWHSSA).  The federal Department of Labor filed an amicus brief in the appellate court in support of the workers and a judge eventually vacated the district court ruling.  In February 2018, the workers were awarded $355,227 by the district court. 
  2. A civil suit was filed against Power Design by a worker in Washington, DC in April 2016 with similar allegations. The complaint describes workers being denied the legally required overtime premium and being misclassified as independent contractors from November 2016 to April 2016.  Power Design settled the case with the worker, agreeing to pay $25,000 in back wages, damages and attorney fees. 
  3. A Fair Labor Standards law suit filed by workers in December 2016 against Power Design alleges that the workers were not paid the minimum wage and overtime premiums.  The minimum wage in Florida, where the workers were employed, at the time was $8.05.  In total, 21 workers sought to join the law suit.  Power Design settled the case, agreeing to pay the workers $100,900, but refusing to acknowledge that the company was ever the employer of the workers. 
  4. Five electrical workers in DC filed a class action law suit against Power Design and other employers for failing to pay the minimum wage and overtime premium in December 2014.  The case was settled with the Defendants agreeing to pay back wages, liquidated damages and attorney fees totaling $35,000. 
  5. Two employees filed suit for unpaid work hours cover approximately two months in the fall of 2015.  The case was settled for $3,500 in April 2018. 
  6. Wilson Moise, an employ of Power Design, alleged that he regularly worked overtime hours between February 2007 and December 2009 without being compensated at the legally required overtime premium.  The case settled in September 2010.
2018-10-18T16:12:33+00:00September 1st, 2018|News, Wage Theft|

Union workers arrested protesting Dolphins owner Stephen Ross during NYC demonstration

Union construction workers took to the streets of New York on Wednesday to protest Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ seat on the NFL’s social justice committee.

The group organized under the name “Count Me In” accuses Ross of condoning “racism, sexism and union-busting” through his Related real estate business that is working on a project in New York’s Hudson Yard development.

Protestors arrested at demonstration against Ross

Police arrested several of the protestors who set up near the NFL’s New York headquarters clad in Dolphins-colored T-shirts that read “Step Down Steve.”

A throng of protestors and bystanders gathered at the site.

Ross sued union workers over $20B project

The protest appears to be a response to Ross’ lawsuit against unionized labor. Crain’s, a New York business publication, reports that Ross sued union workers earlier this year, claiming that they bilked his company out of $100 million during the first phase of a $20 billion development project.

Related is seeking to complete the second half of the Hudson Yards project open-shop, which would allow the company to use non-union labor, according to the report.

The social justice committee Ross sits on consists of several NFL owners and players as a cooperative effort to address the social issues that have been prevalent for many of the league’s players.

Count Me In appears to have targeted his seat on that committee as a way to draw attention to their cause.

This article appeared in Yahoo! Sports.

2018-10-18T16:13:05+00:00August 29th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Sexual Harassment, Union Busting|

Union Strong: Local 79 Laborer Leaves Hostile Workplace Behind

In the ongoing battle against so-called “open shop development” at Hudson Yards and the assault on good middle class jobs — wages and benefits figure greatly. But so, too, do things like dignity, safety and respect.

Before joining Laborer’s Local 79, Tierra Williams worked nonunion for an outfit called Trade Off at One Hudson Yards. While on that job, the 29-year-old Flatbush resident says she experienced repeated episodes of sexual harassment from a leering foreman who liked to follow her to the bathroom. It got so bad, Williams didn’t feel comfortable taking a bathroom break unless a friend accompanied her.

“Not only was I exploited as a worker, but as a woman,” Williams told LaborPress this week. “I experienced a lot of sexism as far as my voice not being heard and my opinions falling on deaf ears.”

When Williams persisted in speaking out, she says a general foreman for Trade Off fired her.

“He said it didn’t come from him, but somebody higher up,” Williams said. “I don’t know who that person is.”

Ultimately, Williams insists developer Stephen Ross has failed to take responsibility for the harassment she, as well as a number of other female workers — experienced on that Trade Off job site.

“Many affidavits have gone in and he’s thrown them in the garbage,” Williams alleges. “He has not responded — not even given a word of comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know him personally, he wasn’t there — but I think his voice would matter more than anyone else’s.”

Today, Williams is working union on a job site at 125 Greenwich Street where she is earning better wages and benefits in a “very different” atmosphere that feels “more stable, more concrete.”

“I get the utmost respect on my job now,” Williams said. “That’s because these guys have so much to live for. Other people that I was working with nonunion — they don’t have anything to look forward to — no 401k plans, nothing.”

The were also woefully untrained, according to Williams.

“Most of them are coming right off the streets — they’ve never been to a class, they’ve never been to school,” Williams said. “They’ve been paying for their OSHA cards. They’ve got OSHA cards coming from all over the place. With 79, you’ve got to get your OSHA card through them, you have to go to their schools, they have to know who you are.”

As a union construction worker, Williams said she has further developed the kind of important interpersonal skills that will serve her well far into her building career.

“You get to meet people, learn how to conduct yourself — they actually give you a life lesson as you’re on the job,” Williams said.

This article was originally posted on LaborPress.

2018-10-18T16:13:20+00:00August 29th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Safety Concerns|

Lack of FDNY Coverage at Hudson Yards Alarming

Every day, the far west side of Manhattan inches ever taller as skyscrapers rise in the Hudson Yards.

By 2025, 125,000 people a day are expected to live, work or visit the 28-acre development, which will have 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space, including 4,000 apartments, a hotel, and a public school.

The one thing the Hudson Yards won’t have? A firehouse. A huge mistake, says the head of the firefighters union.

“I believe they’re gambling with people’s lives,” said UFA President Gerard Fitzgerald.

The nearest firehouses are Engine 34 on 38th Street between ninth and tenth avenues; Engine 1 on 31st Street between sixth and seventh avenues; and Engine 26 on 37th Street between seventh and eighth avenues.

They may not seem that far away. But the union says they’re often in the middle of traffic jams partly because Penn Station, Times Square and the Lincoln Tunnel are nearby. And they already are very busy.

“The fire companies that are responding right now are stressed to the max. It’s not just the fires and it’s not just fatalities. The New York City Fire Department, the firefighters, respond to medical emergencies also,” Fitzgerald added.

Last year the FDNY clocked more than 1.7 million calls citywide, a record — 82 percent of them medical emergencies.

Engine 1 on 31st Street was the third-busiest engine company. Engines 26 and 34 ranked 54th and 90th out of 198 companies.

But the union says those units will only get busier in the future. The new City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who represents the area, agrees.

“It’s going to be one of the highest concentrations of folks in the city, and a firehouse should have been initially included. It wasn’t. But now we should fight for a firehouse in Hudson Yards,” Johnson said.

Johnson called on the city at the end of 2016 to study whether a new firehouse is needed. The fire department says that review is ongoing.

The review includes not just the Hudson Yards development but the entire area from 28th to 42nd streets, west of 8th Avenue, which was rezoned more than a decade ago sparking a development boom.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro points out that all of the buildings rising on the far west side will have the latest in fire-safety technology, but he acknowledges the department must play catchup.

“I won’t say it will be engines or ladders or ambulances or some combination, but certainly when it all is said and done/resources will be needed,” Nigro added.

Those resources will help protect a neighborhood that is mainly being built from scratch.

This article was originally posted on NY1.

2018-10-18T16:13:52+00:00March 26th, 2018|News, Safety Concerns|
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