Romulo Saldana was looking for work.Read the rest here.
It was 2001, and Saldana had moved to East Harlem from a small town in the Ecuadorian Andes three years before. Besides a sister, he knew few people in the city. A friend sent him to Manuel, an older Ecuadorian, who had papers and owned a successful construction company in Queens. The man hired Saldana as a day laborer and, over the course of five years, he built some 30 block houses, the kind of low-rise brick rental units that have sprung up lately in sections of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Eventually, Saldana was promoted to foreman.
Every week, Saldana would gather his crew of six men in the “yarda” — a garage in a house the boss owned in Long Island — to hand out their pay. Only the money would always come up short — sometimes $3,000 for all of them together, sometimes just $1,000, even when they were owed a total of $4,000. At first, Saldana didn’t much mind his boss’s negligence: it was the height of the construction boom; he was able to do other jobs on the side. “I trusted him because he was from my country,’ Saldana told me, in Spanish. “I thought, ‘’If he isn’t going to pay me this week, he will pay me later.’”
In 2006, Saldana added up all those deferred promises in his notebook: $34,000. He is still seeking most of that money.
What does $34,000 mean to a New Yorker? For Saldana — who works in the kitchen of a restaurant in Long Island now that construction work has dried up — it meant the difference between being able to send money home to pay for his teenage daughter to go to middle school, and provide for a caretaker and medicine for his ailing 90-year-old father. It was the difference between paying his own rent and borrowing money from his sister. And this Christmas, he can’t afford to buy presents for his American-born 6-year-old. “I will tell my daughter, Santa Claus is very poor,” he said.
I have known a few people who were stiffed by employers, in one case for more than $15,000 in pay and overtime (that they never paid any of their workers for). This sort of thing really burns me.