New York—Undocumented immigrant workers, especially in the construction business, take a gamble every time they agree to a job because they are not guaranteed what most take for granted: workplace safety, minimum wage, overtime, or even prompt payment. But Mr. Xu, a construction worker from Queens, NY, won a rare $2,600 settlement for carpentry and home improvement work he performed for a construction contractor after pursuing a back-wage claim through the Korean Workers Project.
An ethnic Korean immigrant from China, Mr. Xu, age 47, agreed to work for a New York-based construction company last January, working regularly for 10 hours a day, six days a week. Although the employer agreed to pay him $150 each day, he was not paid after two weeks work.
When he finally asked for unpaid wages, the employer paid him only $400 cash, and did not return his calls after promising to pay him the balance later.
“I have worked in construction for seven years, and more often than not, if youre a day laborer, contractors just wont pay you because they think you wont complain,” said Mr. Xu. “When I heard about the Korean Workers Project at AALDEF and YKASEC, I thought they could help me. And they did.”
The Korean Workers Project provides traditional direct legal services free of charge to low-wage Korean immigrant workers through the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), in conjunction with YKASECEmpowering the Korean American Community and offers community education and outreach efforts.
Mr. Xu, who does not wish to give his full name, received a check for the settlement earlier this month. The settlement was nearly the equivalent of his hourly rate at the agreed daily rate, plus overtime.
Korean Chinese, or ethnic Koreans from China, constitute a very new community in the New York metropolitan area that has experienced explosive growth, almost all in the past five years. It is estimated that there are now about 15,000 to 20,000 Korean Chinese in the metropolitan New York area, with a rough estimate of 10,000 in Flushing, and others living in New Jersey and Long Island.
Even though the construction contractor kept no records, and paid workers only in cash, they have an obligation under law to pay workers for the work they do. “It is inexcusable to cheat them of their wages,” said Korean Workers Project Director and AALDEF attorney Steven Choi. “If an employer cheats a worker, we will pursue back-wage pay to the fullest extent of the law. Possible remedies include seizing a bank account or car, or sending a sheriff or marshal to the employers house to seize personal property in order to repay a worker.”
Anyone who wishes to contact the Korean Workers Project should call YKASEC at 718.460.5600 or AALDEF at 212.966.5932 x223.