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That’s the gist of what’s going on in Newark. With the support of Superintendent Roger Leon, Mayor Ras Baraka, and the Newark School Board, a developer called Summit Assets is building a new $!60 million Newark High School of Architecture and Design (NJHSAD). The school’s focus is enginerring and building trades; at the ground-breaking ceremony, Leon boasted graduates will “leave the school with the skills that will make them immediately employable while also being prepared for further personal and professional advancement.”
On Monday TapintoNewark broke the story that Summit Assets was hiring non-unionized employees–a violation of state law for a public building this large—and treating these employees poorly. Yesterday Tapinto followed up with a description of the working conditions these low-income workers are subjected to, including pay below the “prevailing wage,” a requirement for these types of jobs. The tweet above notes the “tragic irony” of a school intended to boost career prospects in construction for low-income students being built on the backs of workers paid unfair and illegal wages. Here is more of what Tapinto uncovered:
- Construction workers for NJHSAD are enduring “poor and unsafe working conditions as well as payments that were made in cash and at rates well below the prevailing wage in New Jersey.”
- “When I talk to these guys, some are scared to talk because of their documentation status or they’re scared of losing their job,” said Jamie Machado, an organizer for Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund, or LEROF. “The ones that talk usually all have the same story. They say they make $130 a day, cash, when we all know this is a prevailing wage job.”…[H]e wonders about environmental issues that could place workers or community members in harm’s way—such as asbestos removal.
- “It was somewhat of a hostile environment,” said Juan Pablo Villanueva, who worked on the project between January and February. “For example, there was no water available for us, so if we went to the store to try and get some water, [the foreman] would get upset… We were doing demolition and had a lot of machines going which created a lot of dust, but if we didn’t bring our own [face] masks, then we didn’t have a mask. The company didn’t provide masks or hard hats.”
- Villanueva reported, “I was paid $140 per day in cash. I never got a check. I worked from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and worked every other Saturday.” That would amount to less than $15 an hour—close to the minimum wage of $13 an hour and far below the prevailing wage of at least $66 per hour, including salary and benefits, according to the union.
- Newark resident Javier Gomez said, “It wasn’t demanded for us to wear hard hats, and there were no masks available. When we were doing demolition and it was raining, you have to be more careful when things are wet, but the foreman didn’t care. When guys were on the floor doing demolition, there was no protection. There wasn’t even protection for the public. Outside of the job site, there was a lot of foot traffic and children, and there was no protection for them.”
For the full report, see here.
(Photo courtesy of Jamie Machado)