In a raucous, brightly colored show of strength, members of The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) rallied at Journal Square on Monday to call for higher wages and better working conditions on construction sites in Jersey City.
Union spokesman Rob Lewandowski singled out Eatontown-based contractor Concrete Rising for particular opprobrium. According to Lewandowski, almost 260 laborers — almost all immigrants — faced constant mistreatment and abuse on the non-union Downtown LeFrak project called The Wave. “They were belittled and shamed on the job site, their wages were stolen, and their lives were regularly put in danger.”
Geraldo Garcia, who was employed by Concrete Rising said “They treated us like slaves. We worked long days and were not allowed to take breaks for water or lunch, but our supervisor would eat in front of us. And at the end of the week, I was never paid in full.”
Jose Mendoza added “There were always safety issues. I took precautions but it was a dangerous job site. One day a worker fell and was hurt badly. No ambulance was called. The company put his life at-risk using a crane to get him off the building in a garbage bin.”
Said Lewandowski, the workers’ immigration statuses are used as “a point of exploitation.”
The Jersey City Times could not independently verify the workers’ or union’s claims. Emails sent to Lefrak and Concrete Rising requesting comment on the matter were not returned.
While LIUNA’s members are paid $38 an hour ($62 including benefits), Lewandowski said “This is not about making union members rich…We want to raise the standards for everybody.”
LIUNA is one of the 13 building trades in Jersey City and represents more than 40,000 construction workers in New Jersey, New York City, Long Island, Delaware, and Puerto Rico.
“All these new high-rises …are not being built union…that wasn’t always the case…the Lefraks, the Kushners of the world are using a different model” bemoaned Lewandowski.