Contractors under fire for not paying workers.
COLUMN: ON BUSINESS
Jose Loja just wants to be paid.
The 26-year-old Worcester roofer and carpenter was one of five workers who worked six days a week this summer for six weeks on two buildings in the Botany Bay apartment complex in Worcester. His father and two of his brothers also worked on the project, completing rough framing, installing siding and building and shingling the roofs of two apartment
He says he is owed $9,000, and the five men are owed a total of $25,200.
"It's not just a little money, and it's not just (owed) to me," said Mr. Loja, in his native Spanish, during an interview at Union Station last week. Mr. Loja, who emigrated to this country from Ecuador seven years ago, said he and his fellow workers were not paid by Fastway Builder Inc. and G. Costa Construction, two subcontractors on the Botany Bay project. Fastway is owned by Marcos A. De-Oliveira, of Shrewsbury; G. Costa Construction is owned by Gilmar F. Costa, who lists a Bellingham address in his corporate filing but lives in Milford, according to Mr. Loja.
I could not reach either man; both of the phone numbers I found for Mr. Costa have been disconnected; I could not find a number for Mr. DeOliveira. Mr. Loja said he has tried, without success, to reach them by phone and at their homes since September of last year.
Mr. Loja, with the help of a Framingham workers' rights nonprofit group, has filed a lien against the Botany Bay development in the Worcester Registry of Deeds, in an attempt to collect his claim. He and his fellow workers, plus some local union members and church folk, have held two protests in front of Botany Bay.
"There's a long list of people out there who have not been paid," said Diego Low, a coordinator for the Metro-West Worker Center, a nonprofit group based in Framingham that advocates on behalf of immigrants and workers. Mr. Low said Fastway Builder is a repeat offender. In 2010, several workers placed liens with the Registry of Deeds on properties that Fastway worked on in Worcester, saying they were not paid.
"At the moment, the system is broken, and the most vulnerable are those with the fewest resources," said Mr. Low. "In this case, the workers' best option for being paid is for Botany Bay to step up and do what's right."
Following the first worker protest on Feb. 6, Botany Bay issued a written response through its corporation, 222 June Street LLC.
Botany Bay is placing the blame on G. Costa Construction and Fastway Builder, its subcontractors, saying Botany Bay paid the two companies on time and in full.
"Most business people would agree that this problem should be resolved between G. Costa Construction and his employees," the statement read. The union and the workers, though, "feel that Botany Bay Construction should make up the deficiency in the men's paychecks," the statement read.
Botany Bay was not aware of the problem of nonpayment "until much after the problem had occurred," and Botany Bay encouraged the workers and union members "to picket the office of the workers' employer, G. Costa Contractors Group, 45 Fruit Street Extension, Milford, MA."
Most of the Botany Bay development, at the corner of June Street and Botany Bay Road, is already occupied. With dissatisfied workers and union members knocking on the doors of condominium owners, papering the development with leaflets detailing their claims, it is a potentially embarrassing situation for the development's owners. In addition, the units that the men worked on are being shown to potential buyers or renters, increasing the harm that a public disagreement could have on the development's bottom line. Botany Bay certainly has the deeper pockets, and more to lose, if the disagreement drags on.
I asked Mr. Loja why he continued to work, week after week for six weeks, without being paid.
He said he had worked for Gilmar Costa in the past, and had been paid. Despite persistent rumors in the immigrant community that Mr. Costa had a history of not paying other workers, Mr. Loja said he and his relatives agreed to work for him.
"We are people of honor," Mr. Loja said, "and we thought he would be too."
Contact Aaron Nicodemus via email at email@example.com or at (508) 793-9473