Armed with little more than their voices, a few signs and the backing of an empowerment group, a small contingent of construction workers, who claim they are owed a combined total of $91,290 in wages and damages for work they performed, formed a picket line in front of the Bayside home of their alleged deadbeat employer on Saturday — or so they thought.
But the man who came out of the house, Peter Cha, said he is its owner, not Bongjun Park. Park is the subcontractor who allegedly hired them to work on the Dwight School in Manhattan and then failed to pay them.
City records show the home is owned by a family named Cha, and do not mention anyone named Park. Cha admitted he works with Park but denied owing the workers anything.
Greeting several of the picketers by name, he said, “These guys still work for me. I don’t owe them any money. Why they work for me if I owe them money? They know I will pay them on time.”
He indicated that five of the men in front of his house are working for him.
One of the workers, a man named Angel, corroborated the story. Speaking through an interpreter, he said he has been working for Cha for the past two years and that Cha has been paying his employees.
But he said that he is owed for 23 days of work dating back 10 months when he was under Park’s employ.
A nonprofit organization called New Immigrant Community Empowerment, or NICE, which ensures that new immigrants are informed of their rights, took up the workers’ cause in January when they attended one of its meetings and presented their case.
NICE Executive Director Valeria Treves, said, “In construction, there's a lot of sub-contracting. It’s a huge problem. Whoever hires the workers should pay them.”
Treves said that, in this case, Park was the subcontractor who hired the workers. According to her, Park, who could not be reached, said he couldn’t pay the workers because the contractor had not yet paid him.
In letters provided by Cha, various contractors and subcontractors are named in connection to the case, making it particularly difficult to unravel.
NICE called the situation “another in the long list of examples of the way in which sub-contracting allows employers to blatantly disregard basic labor laws. We at NICE feel that the construction industry benefits and profits from a system where workers’ rights are close to nonexistent.”
Andres Garcia, an organizer at NICE, said the workers involved were paid small amounts to continue to string them along to work. He said that Angel is due $14,058, most of it in liquidated damages and interest.
When police were summoned to the scene, Cha told them he is not affiliated with the company that owes the workers back pay, and asked the police to close down the picket line. They refused, on grounds that the protesters were within their legal rights.
Cha provided Garcia with another Bayside address which he said belongs to Park.
Garcia said he would pursue the issue and if it’s not resolved, the group would return to resume picketing in front of Cha’s house.