San Jose is expanding its investigation into illegal labor practices, including wage theft, in temporary shelters run by Habitat for Humanity, but there is no fixed date on which workers are paid.
The city’s public works authority is demanding $ 319,631.46 in compensation for workers at Veev Build, a subcontractor, for various alleged labor violations reported from San Jose Spotlight at the Monterey / Bernal Emergency Housing Project earlier this year. The amount due is almost six times what the city originally asked Veev in its first violation report back in April.
The city increased the reimbursement after Veev shared additional information, according to a city memo, exposing other violations, including failure to pay workers for all hours and misclassification of workers.
San Jose is also reviewing two other emergency housing projects – Evans Lane and Rue Ferrari – after it has identified potential underpaid workers. City documents released earlier this month suggest subcontractor Suarez & Munoz Construction may be on the hook for more than $ 100,000 in restitution and more than $ 23,000 in fines.
The city has not yet imposed fines on Veev and it is unclear when the workers on the Monterey / Bernal project will be paid. Public works director Matt Cano told San Jose Spotlight he was unable to answer that question as the investigation is pending.
Cano wrote in a memo to lawmakers:
“Due to the complexity of this investigation, it is still ongoing. However, the staff is actively working with the contractor to ensure that all workers are paid fair wages as soon as possible. “
Workers waiting for their wages due are frustrated by the delay. Francisco Lara, a plumber with the Monterey / Bernal project, told San Jose Spotlight that he worked 12-hour days on the site and cut his arm on a pipe, which required 12 stitches. According to city records, Lara worked for at least a week that wasn’t on Veev’s certified payroll.
“It’s stressful. … I have to fight for things that I worked hard for and that I never got. “
Molly L. Kaban, a lawyer for Veev, said the company discovered errors in the city’s reimbursement calculation after reviewing its records with the help of an outside advisor. She did not immediately provide examples. Veev said it was working with the city to answer questions.
“We believe that once the review process is complete, the notice will be revised or withdrawn entirely. Of course, if something is still owed after the process is over, Veev will honor all of its obligations. “
Habitat for Humanity East Bay / Silicon Valley is working to fix the issues and has a compliance advisor to work with the company’s subcontractors, spokeswoman Patti Wang told San Jose Spotlight.
Habitat for Humanity has been awarded an approximately $ 6 million public works contract to build emergency shelters for the homeless during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mayor Sam Liccardo and Governor Gavin Newsom used the Monterey / Bernal location as a backdrop for a televised press conference in October 2020, boasting that units were built quickly and cheaply.
Earlier this year, San Jose Spotlight reported rampant wage theft and dangerous working conditions at the site. Many workers received no money from a citywide union contract, and one subcontractor hired non-union workers for less than current wage laws allow.
Veev has argued that it is not responsible for the incorrect classification of workers because the workers should record the correct classification for themselves. The city dismissed that argument in its October memo, stating that California labor law requires contractors and subcontractors to keep accurate payrolls, and misclassification by an employee won’t let an employer off the hook.
The city also convicted Veev for allegedly failing to report their certified payrolls to five employees hired through a recruitment firm, Aerotek Temp Agency. San Jose claims Veev also failed to provide certified pay slips for the past 72 working days.
The memo said:
“As a result, (Equal Opportunities Office) cannot determine whether Veev owes workers additional compensation.”
A lawsuit is pending in Santa Clara County against Veev by two joiners who claim the company did not pay them all their wages or allow them to have lunch breaks at the right times while they were on the housing project.
Mauricio Velarde, director of compliance for the South Bay Piping Industry, said he reached out to the city months ago about possible wage violations and safety issues at the Monterey / Bernal site.
He added that Cano had downplayed the severity of the violations, saying:
“I informed them in the summer of 2020 about violations that they ignored.”
This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.