Alex Sanchez has been working in construction for 17 years and now works with his two sons on residential jobsites in Southern California. This is their story:
By Alex Sanchez
We install connectors, hold-downs and other hardware to make the building stronger. At our job building apartments for RDV Construction I was the lead man doing this work and there were 12 of us working together, including my two sons and myself.
We got paid every 15 days by check. Each guy got his own check, but no check stubs. They never paid overtime, we were told that we worked by the piece. RDV always took out about 10 to 15 percent of what they owed us. No one ever gave us a reason.
Sometimes the checks would bounce. The foreman would say RDV just deposited the money, you have to wait to cash it, go back Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes that would work and sometimes not.
On paydays the whole crew would go across the street to the bank. Just two of us would go in, to see if the funds were there to cash our checks. Sometimes the bank manager would come outside and tell all of us, there are no funds in that account to pay you.
One time when the checks bounced, I talked to the foreman. He asked me to pay the crew and RDV would pay me back on the next payday. They did that a couple of times, but then it would happen again.
We helped to pay the crew to keep the guys working and to keep the job going.
It started happening more and then they stopped paying us back—it went from two to four to six weeks that we weren’t getting our money back from RDV.
My sons and I were using money we had saved up for many years to pay guys on the crew. Money that we had put aside to pay taxes was used to pay workers. We are like anyone else, we’ve got kids, we have to pay rent and we were always behind on our bills. But this affected my attitude toward the workers—I always owed them money.
Finally, we couldn’t do it anymore. Almost everybody quit. There were other crews like us. We are the kind of people who want to finish the job we start, but this was impossible.
(Editor’s Note: Recently the California Labor Commissioner’s office cited RDV Construction $12 million for wage theft. An estimate done for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters found that, nationally, some 1.2 million workers are paid off the books each year. Another 300,000 are classified as self-employed when they are really no different than regular employees. Employers engaging in these practices fail to report correct payroll numbers to taxing authorities and insurance officials—and taxpayers lose.)