Robin Hood: 32BJ, James & Stringer return recovered wages to building workers

Stephon Johnson | 1/2/2020, midnight
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg helped ...
Letitia James Contributed

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg helped workers get back pay they were cheated out of.

James, Stringer, and Bragg distributed more than $400,000 in back wages plus interest to 11 building service employees who were the victims of wage theft at a luxury apartment complex in downtown Brooklyn. This is the result of a $2.9 million settlement between James, Stringer and the landlords of 180 Nassau Street, Brooklyn Warehouse 180 LLC and Mica Gabe Brooklyn LLC.

According to the settlement, both entities willfully violated prevailing wage requirements under New York State’s Section 421-a, tax exemption program, by underpaying building service employees and withholding supplemental benefits. A whistleblower at 32BJ alerted the Comptroller and Attorney General offices about the issue.

Bragg stated that any victory of this magnitude is an important message to workers around the city.

“This is a huge victory, not only for the hardworking men and women who have kept Brooklyn Warehouse clean, safe and functioning for tenants, but also for the families and communities that rely on them,” Bragg said. “The back wages will help Brooklyn Warehouse’s concierge, superintendent, doormen, porters and other building service workers get back on their feet after being grossly underpaid. This also sends a clear message to employers across the city that workers’ wages and benefits must be paid properly.”

The settlement was approved by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). When distributed, the 11 workers will receive––based upon their hours worked and date of hire––anything ranging from $5,500 to $80,000.

A joint investigation by James and Stringer’s offices revealed that in 2014, Mica Gabe fraudulently got the HPD to issue a Section 421-a partial tax exemption for its Brooklyn property, based on the false assurance that building service employees would be paid prevailing wages. Two weeks after certifying that they would pay prevailing wages to building service employees, Mica Gabe hired doorman, porters and a superintendent for its 180 Nassau Street property paying them wages lower than the law required.

“There is zero tolerance for cheating workers out of their hard-earned pay,” stated New York State Attorney General James. “As a result of our investigation, we were able to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars for these workers—payment that they should have received long ago.”

Section 421-a of the New York Real Property Tax Law grants tax breaks on certain new multi-unit residential buildings. If any project receiving the tax exemption is subject to local rent stabilization laws it requires developers to pay building workers prevailing wages or set aside units for affordable housing. 

Because of the violations to Section 421-a and the New York False Claims Act, the defendants paid back wages to workers, along with 16-percent interest, in addition to $2.5 million in damages to the city and state. 32BJ SEIU will receive a percentage of the damages as well. Brooklyn Warehouse will be required to provide the Office of the Attorney General annual wage reports and show that any subsequent purchaser has agreed to comply with Section 421-a’s prevailing wage requirements.

“In New York City, the dignity of work matters and we will never stand idle when hard-working New Yorkers are exploited or underpaid,” stated Stringer.