Thursday, December 2

Inside New York ‘Body Shops’ Exploiting Former Prisoners to Cut Wages | Construction industry

FFor years, non-union labor brokers in the New York City construction industry have targeted workers who have recently been released from prison and are under supervision of probation or other judicial surveillance programs, in a A measure that many say ensures low wages and poses a serious safety risk for employees.

Known as “body shops,” these labor intermediaries hire and pay workers to perform work for third-party companies, and they benefit by taking a portion of the wages paid by the company. Labor intermediaries end up competing in a race to reduce labor costs by cutting wages and shortcuts in training and safety.

Former prisoners generally must seek work as a condition of their release, so they may be willing to take whatever job they can get to avoid being returned to jail for a parole violation. Not a vain threat: New York imprisoned people nearly three times the national average in 2019 for violations of technical probation, consisting of 40% of all people admitted to state prisons. Workshop employers exploit those job requirements to pay for people’s low wages. on probation in unsafe working conditions.

In 2020, there was a Estimate 9,173 construction workers re-entered New York City and construction work accounted for approximately 24% of all jobs for recently released prisoners. Typical wages for these workers are just above the city minimum wage, with no benefits, while union members in the New York City construction industry start at more than $ 28 an hour plus benefits.

Shortly after being released from prison in New York City, John Simmons began working for a construction body shop in July 2016, a job that was recommended to him through a work release program, earning $ 13. the hour without benefits.

“This was basically the only job I qualified for because of a mistake I made in my life,” Simmons said. “Giving myself a second chance is not just giving me a job, but making sure I can support myself. How are you giving me a second chance while setting me up for failure by working for an auto body shop? “

Simmons said he struggled to make ends meet while working for the construction body shop, and that he suffered from toothache for three years because he was uninsured and couldn’t afford treatment.

When he started working in the body shop, he was assigned cleaning duties at the job sites, until one day he was instructed to start construction tasks without any training.

“One day they told me this had to be done, they just put a power tool in my hand and told me to go to work,” Simmons explained. “Auto body shops don’t respect, care, or care about the employees they hire.”

You were not provided with personal protective equipment at work, such as gloves or safety masks. He recalled an incident in which he was ordered, along with some co-workers, to climb onto the scaffold on the side of a construction site 12 stories above without a safety harness in order to put up a safety net in anticipation of a storm to blow. looming.

“It was like we were climbing bars to protect the site from the storm,” added Simmons. “Many of us were afraid that if we complained, if we said something, we would lose our job, and one of the stipulations of probation is that you must seek to obtain and keep a job. So we were afraid to speak. “

Critics of auto body shops argument Their practices create a lower-level workforce within the construction industry, where predominantly black and black workers receive significantly lower wages with no benefits, while employers receive tax credits for hiring them and are exempt workers’ compensation, unemployment taxes and union organizing.

Workers and unions are advocating for the New York City Council to pass the auto body shop bill. The proposed law would provide a regulatory framework to increase transparency and oversight of subcontractors in the construction industry who rely on previously incarcerated workers, including enacting authorization and reporting requirements for these labor intermediaries.

“Auto body shops operate in the shadows, without accountability,” said Mike Prohaska, Laborers’ Local 79 business manager. They prey on formerly incarcerated New York City workers. “

Danny Cooley started working for a construction body shop in late 2016 after being released from prison, for $ 13 an hour with no benefits. He said he was not given personal protective equipment and that he was forced to pay for his own reflective safety vest with the company logo on it.

Cooley cited an incident in which he was told to walk through sewage without any personal protective equipment or proper boots to protect him from contact with contaminated water.

“There is no retirement, there is no 401k, there is nothing for the future, it is a dead end job,” Cooley said.

Cooley and other current and former auto body shop workers who are now members of the International Workers Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 79 and Mason’s Bid Council have been campaigning to control construction auto body shops and provide to the people royal reentry opportunities rather than funneling them into exploitative jobs compared to a new sentence to another form of prison.

“Now that I’m in the union, I don’t have to do anything negative to earn a dollar,” Cooley added. “It has changed my life drastically in a positive way and not only financially, but also in being able to help other people in their next step in life.”

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