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Unpaid Construction Workers Protest in Houston

This morning a group of construction workers and supporters of the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center held a protest across from the site of a new discount store to demand justice for nine workers who are owed more than $16,000 in unpaid wages by their employer, subcontractor Carole Johnson Builders LLC and the general contractor on the project, Williams Development and Construction Inc.  Fifteen workers who did interior construction work on the building were not paid for all of the hours they worked during January and February of this year.  Six of the 15 signed an agreement not to take further action in exchange for partial payment of the wages they had earned, but the other nine workers refused to sign away their rights or settle for less than the full amount which they are owed.  Those nine workers contacted the Worker Justice Center on February 24 to ask for assistance in getting the subcontractor or the contractor to do the right thing.

According to a press release from the Worker Justice Center earlier this week,

“The workers also reported safety and health issues. Carole Johnson Builders LLC, their employer, failed to provide drinkable water, harnesses for workers on scaffolding inside the building above 10ft off the ground, or gloves and eye protection for workers cutting heavy metal. This of course is not to mention the greater financial effect on their families.

After multiple attempts to speak with Carole Johnson herself and multiple conversations with the general contractor, Williams Development and Construction Inc, urging them to freeze all open contracts and pending payments to Carole Johnson Builders LLC immediately until she pays her employees, the workers still remain without pay.”

Some of the workers at the protest brought checks that they had been given by Carole Johnson for partial payment of their work.  However, they had not been able to cash these checks because they were told that the Chase bank account did not contain sufficient funds to cover them.  Mariana Pineda, a reporter from Spanish-language television station KXLN Univision 45 Houston, called the number on the workers' paychecks, and was told by Carole Johnson that the workers had been paid, but that some of the payments had been in cash.  Pineda asked if she could come to Johnson’s office to speak with her in person and asked if Johnson was currently in her office.  Johnson said that she was.  Pineda then drove to the address listed on the workers’ checks for Johnson Builders (2211 Rayford Rd, #111-214, Spring, TX 77386), which turned out to be a post-office box in a shipping store located in a strip shopping center.

Carole Johnson Builders has a listing on page 7 of the Houston Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Winter 2011 Construction Directory and Resource Guide, which lists a very similar address and a website address which is not operative.

Local television stations KRIV Fox 26 and KTMD Telemundo 47 were also present at today’s protest.  It is hoped that attention to this injustice will pressure Johnson Builders and Williams Development to step up and pay these workers what they are owed, and more importantly discontinue the unscrupulous practice of wage theft in all of their projects.