A group of 45 workers who say they have not been paid for digging ditches across Maryland and Virginia for Verizon Communications‘ fiber-optic network were to rally outside the company’s D.C. headquarters Tuesday to protest what they claim are labor abuses by the company’s contractors and subcontractors.
Lawyers representing seven workers last week filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maryland against several contractors and subcontractors claiming they are not paying the minimum wage and overtime wages. In two previous instances, workers have obtained legal judgments finding Verizon subcontractors at fault and ordering payment - amounting to more than $200,000 with interest - but one year later, only $3,000 has been collected.
“The subcontractors will go and get workers and they will work and when the job is done, they will just say, ‘Goodbye, thank you very much,’ and will not do anything to pay them,” said Mario Quiroz, spokesman for Casa of Maryland Inc., an immigrant advocacy group collaborating on the case with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Advocates say the majority of the plaintiffs are immigrants from Africa and Central and South America who speak little English and are not aware of their rights under state and federal labor laws.
The lawsuit names the following defendants: NTI LLC; MTXCELL LLC; Tomas Veiga; XTEL Construction Group LLC; Mike Bahmani; PAS-COM Inc. and Adrian Pascu. Calls to those whose numbers are listed in the phone book or on the Internet were not returned Monday.
The case comes more than a year after a judge in February 2007 entered a judgment of $125,944 on behalf of 12 workers represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center who dug ditches for Vision Tech Services LLC - a subcontractor of Verizon FiOS contractor Ivy H. Smith - without being paid. That judgment has not been collected.
Separately, in March 2007, workers represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center were awarded a $40,000 judgment against Anthony Maxwell, a subcontractor of Verizon contractor S&N Communications Inc. A total of only $3,000 has been collected.
Although Verizon is not a defendant in the suit filed last week, organizers of Tuesday’s rally say the New York-based telecommunications firm should assume responsibility for the actions of contractors and subcontractors.
“We’re asking Verizon to take responsibility for ensuring that workers on Verizon’s projects are properly compensated,” said Tim Freilich, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “We’re asking for three things specifically: One, that Verizon arrange for the payments of the outstanding judgments; two, that Verizon meet with the workers and their advocates regarding the other claims for unpaid wages; and third, we’re asking Verizon to put a meaningful monitoring system in place to ensure that Verizon’s subcontractors stop exploiting and abusing workers.”
Verizon, for its, part, said it is investigating the allegations and has requested information from Casa of Maryland.
“We hope to schedule a meeting with the prime contractors involved, Casa de Maryland and other interested parties,” Verizon spokesman Alberto Canal said.
If Verizon determines that workers are not being paid, Mr. Canal said the company will take “the proper course of action,” which could include withholding work from, suspending or firing the prime contractor.
Mr. Freilich said his organization last month requested a meeting with Verizon about the unpaid judgments and was turned down. He hopes to debut a Web site Tuesday, www.canyoupaymenow.org, containing legal documents and information about the cases.
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