Bill Morris in Legal/Financial on March 17, 2022
Wages are on everybody's mind these days. Negotiators are working to reach a new four-year contract for the 30,000 building service employees in New York City who belong to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. Meanwhile, co-op and condo boards that don't already pay their employees prevailing wages are debating whether to raise their employees' pay in order to retain the co-op and condo property tax abatement, under a new rule imposed last year by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Now comes a reminder that there's no getting around paying service employees something. New York Attorney General Letitia James has released a 15-page agreement with Sanford Apartment Corp., a 54-unit co-op in Flushing, Queens, that requires the co-op to pay $130,000 in unpaid wages plus interest to two successive supers who were compensated with a free basement apartment but were never paid.
“Fair pay is both a legal and a moral obligation — it is not a suggestion,” James said in announcing the agreement. “By refusing to provide its employees with wages, Sanford violated the law and took advantage of hard-working New Yorkers. These individuals are finally receiving the money and the justice they’ve long been due. Every single worker has a right to be compensated fairly for their labor, and any employer that attempts to deny the rights of their workers will be met with the full force of my office and the law.”
James first launched an investigation into the Queens co-op following a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) hotline in November 2020. The investigation revealed that Sanford had explicitly refused to provide wages to its superintendents that had been employed with the company for less than two years. Instead, Sanford established that the rent-free apartment granted to all superintendents would be the only compensation they would receive. Sanford’s actions violated the Minimum Wage Order and New York labor laws, which require all employers to pay covered employees the applicable minimum wage.
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Based on the minimum wage laid out in the Wage Order, Sanford owes one worker $39,944.57 in wages plus $9,613.68 in interest, and it owes the second worker $38,602.29 in wages plus $15,660.40 in interest. Sanford must also provide $26,179.06 in liquidated damages to the two superintendents. $75,000 is being distributed to the workers in the coming days, with the remaining $58,300.02 to be paid in six equal installments every two months starting in June of 2022, and the final payment in April 2023.
As part of the agreement, Sanford must also adhere to all federal, state, and local laws and submit biannual compliance reports to OAG. If the co-op fails to comply with the terms of the agreement or fails to provide the superintendents the compensation required, OAG reserves the right to bring civil action against the co-op.
“Every worker should know they are entitled to fair and just wages under New York’s labor laws, and today’s recovery is well-deserved justice for these superintendents,” said state Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat. “Many thanks to Attorney General James for her steadfast commitment to fighting for our most vulnerable, and we encourage anyone who believes they may have suffered wage theft to contact the authorities.”
Sandra Ung, a freshman member of the City Council, added: “Sanford Apartment Corp. likely took advantage of a tight housing market and high rents in Downtown Flushing to convince these two superintendents they should be satisfied with a rent-free apartment in exchange for their labor. This should send a message to other building operators...that if they try to cheat their workers out of fair wages, there will be consequences.”
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