Mistreatment of forced laborers working for subcontractor of R&F affiliate: wage theft, squalid conditions, and denial of medical treatment

“Rear view of an industrial warehouse where about a dozen immigrant workers were forced to work on construction projects without pay in Hayward, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.”[i] – Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

As described in a previous post, an R&F affiliate recently paid $250,000 to settle labor claims related to its construction subcontractor at the Silvery Towers site in San Jose. R&F is the largest private owner of Marriott hotels in China.[ii] The government’s case against the subcontractor Job Torres Hernandez illuminates the appalling conditions that the immigrant laborers were subjected to.

Wage Theft: The US Attorney’s press release announcing the conviction stated that the government’s case had proved since at least May 2015, Torres owned construction companies at which he employed workers to whom he paid little to nothing for their labor. It further stated: “Witnesses testified that Torres paid them far less than what he had promised to pay them, and when they complained, Torres threatened them or their family members.”[iii]

According to local CBS affiliates, before the charges in the Silvery Towers case the California Labor Commissioner had found that Hernandez owed 38 workers almost $600,000 in back wages and penalties.[iv]

Excessive Work: The press release stated that Torres had made laborers work as long as 24 consecutive hours at a time.[v]

Squalid Living Conditions: The press release continued, “In addition, Torres housed dozens of workers on makeshift beds in a commercial warehouse in Hayward, Calif., and other properties including a garage in Hayward.  The workers had limited access to toilets and showers, and at times, the properties were locked, preventing the workers from leaving.”[vi]

Threats of retaliation: After the conviction, the US Attorney’s Office of Northern California explained, “Specifically, the evidence demonstrated Torres warned his victims that if they reported him, then he would harm them physically, have associates in Mexico harm their family, and have them deported.  The evidence also demonstrated that Torres told his victims that if they went to police or filed suit against him, no one would believe them.”[vii]

In light of the incident, lawmakers in San Jose have proposed expanding the city’s wage theft policy. “The proposed provisions and amendments to the existing policy and ordinance will ensure that another Silvery Towers does not occur again and that the City is not blindsided by another atrocity,” said councilmember Raul Peralez.[viii]

Unanswered questions about R&F’s oversight

The working conditions of the trafficked migrant workers at Silvery Towers raise serious questions about R&F’s oversight. The Department of Labor DOL reportedly told the San Jose Mercury News that Full Power Properties, the subsidiary of R&F’s California affiliate, oversaw and approved the work performed by the trafficked workers, approved their work, provided direction and supervision of all the work, and exercised control.[ix]

Lawmakers and investigators should be asking the following questions:

  • Was Full Power Properties aware of the labor trafficking? If so, did they take steps to stop it?
  • Was Full Power aware that the California Labor Commissioner had previously found that Hernandez owed 38 workers almost $600,000 in back wages and penalties?
  • What oversight does R&F conduct over Full Power’s operations?

More broadly, for a company like Marriott which has trained 500,000 employees to alert authorities to human trafficking,[x] is R&F an appropriate partner?

 

 

[i] Matthias Gafni, “ICE frees more than dozen immigrant workers held captive in Hayward,” East Bay Times, 8/30/17. https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/08/30/ice-frees-more-than-dozen-immigrant-workers-held-captive-in-hayward/.

[ii] “目睹万达融创富力买卖现场:酒店从336亿砍到199亿,” Ifeng, 7/20/17.  http://finance.ifeng.com/a/20170720/15540153_0.shtml

[iii] “Hayward Man Convicted of Forced Labor And Harboring Illegal Aliens,” US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, 3/18/19. https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/hayward-man-convicted-forced-labor-and-harboring-illegal-aliens.

[iv] “Construction Boss Accused of Scamming, Imprisoning Undocumented Workers,” KPIX CBS SF Bay, 11/15/17. https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2017/11/15/construction-boss-accused-of-scamming-imprisoning-undocumented-workers/.

[v] “Hayward Man Convicted of Forced Labor And Harboring Illegal Aliens,” US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, 3/18/19. https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/hayward-man-convicted-forced-labor-and-harboring-illegal-aliens.

[vi] “Hayward Man Convicted of Forced Labor And Harboring Illegal Aliens,” US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, 3/18/19. https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/hayward-man-convicted-forced-labor-and-harboring-illegal-aliens.

[vii] “Hayward Man Convicted of Forced Labor And Harboring Illegal Aliens,” US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, 3/18/19. https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/hayward-man-convicted-forced-labor-and-harboring-illegal-aliens.

[viii] Nadia Lopez, “San Jose to expand wage theft policy as Silvery Towers contractor goes to court,” San Jose Spotlight, 3/6/19. https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-to-expand-wage-theft-policy-as-silvery-towers-contractor-goes-to-court/.

[ix] Levi Sumagaysay, George Avalos, “San Jose construction workers held captive are paid $250,000 after government probe, builder claims violations dismayed it,” Mercury News, 7/23/18. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/07/23/san-jose-construction-workers-held-captive-are-paid-250k-after-government-probe/.

[x] “Marriott International Has Trained 500,000 Hotel Workers to Recognize the Signs of Human Trafficking,” Marriott News Center (press release), 1/18/19. https://news.marriott.com/2019/01/marriott-international-has-trained-500000-hotel-workers-to-recognize-the-signs-of-human-trafficking/.