Smith: SJ construction workers continue to wait on wage theft protection
Pictured is Silvery Towers, the site where more than a dozen workers were allegedly enslaved in squalid conditions. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. What’s that sound? The sound of time being wasted by Mayor Sam Liccardo and five of his colleagues in cracking down on human trafficking and wage theft in the construction industry.

The fact that San Jose construction workers are exploited and victimized by wage theft perpetrated by unscrupulous low-road developers is not in dispute. The magnitude of construction workers being ripped off ranges from overtime not being paid, lunch breaks not being provided and workers ordered to work “off the clock” to what occurred at the infamous Slavery Towers.  Actual human slavery.

Right in the heart of downtown San Jose, construction workers on the Silvery Towers condo project, a project named after one of KT Urban’s Ken and Mark Tersini’s family members, were made to work without being paid, held in squalid conditions and threatened with harm if they spoke out. The vile sub-contractor on the project was arrested, convicted and is serving a federal prison sentence for his crime. Silvery Towers is now known as Slavery Towers and when this story broke, everyone thought the San Jose City Council would take swift action to remedy this ill.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Unfortunately, we are all still waiting.

One would think that passing a “Responsible Construction Ordinance” to wash the Slavery Towers stain away forever would have been a no brainer. Not in San Jose. Faux condemnation, phony righteous indignation and promises of “never again” rang through City Hall’s 18th floor as the ugly truth of what occurred at Slavery Towers was revealed. Yet here we are today, without a wage theft ordinance protecting workers on those public works and private construction projects.

Juxtapose the snail-like pace of the inaction to enact a Responsible Construction Ordinance with what occurred when the Tersini brothers and their ilk cried poor and it’s plain to see which side the council majority is on. Small hint, it’s not on the side of San Jose’s middle-class construction workers.

When the development lobby descended upon City Hall with their crocodile tears about not being able to turn a buck on their high-rise construction projects, Mayor Liccardo channeled his best Han Solo and jumped into the Millennium Falcon and piloted it at light speed to get them a $67 million-dollar taxpayer funded handout.

When construction workers and their families shed real tears about not being able to make their rent or mortgage, pay their bills, pay for daycare or save for retirement because they are being ripped off by greedy developers and shady contractors, the mayor donned on a turtle shell and has inched along.

The mayor and council should back up their rhetoric condemning wage theft in the construction industry with action. They should adopt a strong Responsible Construction Ordinance that incorporates the recommendations contained in Councilmember Sergio Jimenez’s proposal. Construction workers in San Jose have waited long enough; it’s time our elected officials matched their rhetoric condemning wage theft with action to eradicate it.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Will Smith is the business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 332 (IBEW), which represents approximately 81 full-time employees, including electricians, senior electricians and electrical supervisors in San Jose.

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