The way management treats the least of their employees says a lot about a business. And we know of one local employer which won’t be found on Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For anytime soon.
Since 2010, undocumented Mexican, Ecuadorean, and Dominican workers have allegedly endured unreasonably harsh working conditions, substandard pay, and ongoing abuse by their supervisors at the New York & Atlantic Railway (NY&A). Their charges were detailed in a lawsuit filed against the railroad a few weeks ago. The lawsuit was first reported by The New York Times, but still receives local media coverage.
The suit is the latest in a series of public criticisms of NY&A business and service practices by federal investigators and other government officials. The company moves 30,000 carloads of construction material, food, waste and other items each year over about 270 miles of tracks from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Montauk, Long Island.
The 18 plaintiffs claim railway supervisors hired them by first picking them up at Home Depot parking lots and then, once they were “permanently” hired, subjected them to dangerous and humiliating conditions at various company locations in Queens and on Long Island. The men routinely spent 12- to 14-hour shifts – and occasionally as much as 24 hours – working on sections of the Long Island Railroad that NY&A leased for no more than $120 per day, regardless of how long that “day” was.
The men said they performed dangerous and strenuous tasks under demeaning conditions — tasks such as righting derailed cars, maintaining switches, and cutting 8×8 railroad ties. And yet, they earned much less than their white co-workers, were denied safety equipment and received no training other than viewing an occasional YouTube “How To” video before performing dangerous jobs such as crawling under derailed railroad cars in attempts to right them.
According to the lawsuit, these laborers who reported for work at the Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Glendale were not allowed to walk through the facility’s main gate. Instead, they had to scale a back fence so they wouldn’t be seen. And occasionally, when federal or state rail inspectors arrived, the plaintiff’s said supervisors ordered them to hide, sometimes yelling that the “federales” had arrived. “We felt embarrassed,” said one plaintiff. “And we felt ashamed, and humiliated.”
The lawsuit seeks class-action certification and recognition that NY& A violated the City’s Human Rights Law, New York State labor laws and the Federal Employers Liability Act. The plaintiffs also ask for damages including back minimum wage and overtime compensation, repayment for physical injuries, pain and suffering, and a court order that forbids NY&A from repeating the alleged actions.
NY&A President James Bonner called the allegations “baseless and without merit.” He added that the company “takes all such claims against our business seriously.” But it is also alleged that several plaintiffs were severely hurt while working for NY&A (one suffered a traumatic brain injury and several had broken bones), and they were often denied access to medical care.
A number of local and state elected officials are making qualified comments that “if the allegations are true,” they categorically decry NY&A’s behavior. In addition to legal damages, some of these officials call for sanctions that include hefty federal and state fines and immediate termination of the company’s several state and regional contracts.
So, does this lawsuit indicate that the NY&A is an employer to be avoided because of this alleged behavior, or that the work there is unsafe? If the allegations prove true, it’s certainly a fair question. “There’s a systemic corruption problem with New York & Atlantic,” the plaintiffs’ attorney recently said. “They picked these groups of people because they thought they were disposable.”
If you or a family member is forced to work in unsafe conditions,the attorneys at Kaplan Lawyers PC can help if you’ll contact us for a free consultation or give us a call at (516) 399-2364.