LatinoJustice Seeks $98,000 In Backwages for Undocumented Immigrant Building Worker Under Special State Minimum Wage Law

By day he was a fulltime porter cleaning a Bronx apartment building with over 70 apartments. Juan Valdez (pseudonym used to protect his identity) worked seven days a week for the past six years in exchange for a free room in the basement of the building without receiving any pay from his employer as mandated by law. At night and on his off time, he would collect empty bottles and cans in order to try and earn enough money to buy food.

In June 2016, Valdez was summarily assaulted by the building’s super and forced out of his basement home. He was never paid one cent for his services over the years. LatinoJustice has assisted Valdez in filing a back wage claim with the NYS Department of Labor seeking $98,000 for unpaid minimum wage and overtime for the last 6 years of his unpaid labor.

LatinoJustice Senior Counsel Jackson Chin who prepared the complaint stated “Many employers and workers do not know that an employer providing free living accomodations such as the basement room provided to Mr. Valdez does not eliminate an employer's legal obligation to pay an employee minimum wages under New York Labor Law. Even a person hired “at-will” without a contract is entitled to minimum wage pay protections.”

Residential buildings in New York which hold 11 units or more are required to provide janitorial services under New York’s Multiple Dwelling laws. The hourly minimum wage rate of pay is set by the New York State Labor Department’s Wage Orders. Because the wage regulation protecting housing service employees is little known by the public, labor exploitation and abuse may be prevalent and likely affects countless immigrant workers working as building porters in NYC.

“Although the building employer may try to claim a credit for the free rent provided to Valdez to be deducted from any back wage award, such a claim in this case would not apply since the basement apartment was not a legal unit barring the building from collecting any rent”, stated Marvin Espana, a second year law student at Brooklyn Law School, who worked on the case with Chin.

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