Union takes aim at LeFrak, Kushner developments  

Laborers file complaint against contractors at Jersey City site

Richard LeFrak, Kushner's Laurent Morali with a rendering of 30 Park Lane in Jersey City
Richard LeFrak, Kushner's Laurent Morali with a rendering of 30 Park Lane in Jersey City (Getty, Rendering via Minno Wasko)

A labor broker awaiting sentencing in a $1 million construction insurance fraud case in New York is at the center of a fight across the river.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America is taking aim at the LeFrak Organization and nonunion contractors it’s using in Jersey City, alleging that workers were exploited on a waterfront site.

The union plans to rally today outside Kushner Companies’ One Journal Square development, where it believes the contractors were going to be hired next.

The state recently shut down work on 30 Park Lane North in Jersey City, a 387-unit apartment building being developed by LeFrak on the Jersey City waterfront. The New Jersey Department of Labor cited failure to pay workers on time, as well as overtime, and improper classification of construction workers.

The stop-work orders were issued in late April against Signatura Laboris, a company registered to labor broker Salvador Almonte, and against the site’s concrete contractor, Concrete Rising. The order against Concrete Rising has since been lifted.

A representative for the Department of Labor declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We take great pride in our job sites and the teams that work on them,” a spokesperson for LeFrak said in a statement. “We have no direct connection to the company in question, which was a subcontractor of a subcontractor, and is no longer involved with this project.”

Almonte was convicted in March for lying about the size of his companies to avoid paying $1 million in insurance premiums. At the time, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Almonte was “putting workers’ lives at risk all in the name of saving a buck.” He is slated to be sentenced this month.

Almonte has operated under a number of entities, providing construction workers to sites. He was released without bail after his 2019 arraignment, the New York Daily News reported at the time.

“He came across the river and started doing it again,” alleged Nicole Vecchione, a research director with an organizing fund for the union’s eastern region.  “At some point that cycle needs to be broken.”

When Almonte was indicted in 2019 in the insurance fraud case, the Manhattan district attorney alleged that more than a dozen of Almonte’s workers had been injured on the job in the preceding four years. One, Juan Chonillo, died after falling from Fortis Property Group’s 161 Maiden Lane in 2017. SSC High Rise, which pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Chonillo’s death, had used Almonte’s labor services, according to authorities.

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The union has targeted so-called “body shops” in New York, a term it uses to describe what it considers exploitative companies that provide construction labor to sites. The Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and Long Island, which is part of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, got a law passed that requires such companies to obtain licenses.

Opponents of the measure viewed it as another market-share grab by the union. They say some brokers of nonunion labor provide jobs to people living at the margins, such as new immigrants and recently incarcerated people unable to get union jobs.

But Vecchione said small unlicensed companies like Almonte’s assume the liability posed by unsafe work conditions. She and the union are pushing for that responsibility to trickle up the hierarchy to the general contractor and developer on a project. Labor brokers tend to use numerous LLCs, which can make them more difficult to track from job to job.

“It is a shell game,” said David Johnson, director of the organizing fund. “This is one company of several that we’ve come across, and it seems like it is just getting more and more prevalent.”

The Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Almonte’s company and Concrete Rising. The union fund alleges that the companies interfered with workers’ attempts to unionize and retaliated against those workers by reneging on promises of future work.

An attorney for Concrete Rising said his client disputes the allegations in the NLRB complaint, and any other accusations of wrongdoing. Almonte could not be reached for comment.

One worker, who asked to be referred to as Garcia, described working long hours at 30 Park Lane with no breaks and finding that his paycheck was hundreds of dollars short. He described an incident earlier this year where another worker was injured on the 32nd floor. He said a crane was used to transport the worker from the project in a construction trash container.

“Many of the workers didn’t like how he was treated,” Garcia said in Spanish.

“Wage theft and safety issues go hand in hand,” Vecchione said. “When a worker was injured, they got him off the site in a garbage bin. That tells you everything you need to know about how they treat workers.”

Senior reporter Katherine Kallergis translated an interview with Garcia. 

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