Stop Worker Abuse in Hudson County

Dear Editor:

Throughout our state, wealthy developers are taking advantage of lax labor law enforcement and outdated regulations to increase profit margins by abusing workers, robbing workers and the state of revenue and creating an unequal business environment where illegality is the optimal business model.
The practice is so widespread that this type of criminality is now the standard procedure in the development industry. Too many politicians have historically looked the other way, as campaign cash from developers and contractors flows readily, but the Hudson County Board of Freeholders recently stood up to challenge the industry. In August, the freeholders passed a resolution condemning exploitative developers, helping to shine a light on the abuses that are taking place daily.
These millionaire developers are utilizing construction contractors who break federal and state laws by misclassifying full-time workers as part-time contractors, committing wage theft by violating overtime requirements, establishing illegal work weeks, paying cash and evading taxes – all with one goal: to increase profits. This widespread worker abuse is occurring while the developers are charging record rents, record warehouse prices and recording obscene profits, and often with the benefit of state or local sponsored tax breaks.
The fact that these illegal practices are allowed to continue in plain sight amounts to direct corporate welfare, with working men and women being abused and the taxpayers being cheated. And Hudson County is literally ground zero for the issue.
At a time when state government has nearly shut down and further tax increases seem inevitable, it’s important to consider the millions of dollars being stolen from the state due to the vast fraud that is taking place. According to a comprehensive report from Stockton University, approximately 35,000 workers are off-the-books or illegally misclassified as independent contractors, which leads to the state losing $25 million a year in tax revenue.
What are we seeking? We are seeking basic fairness and economic justice: a level playing field so businesses operating within the law can compete and for all workers to be treated fairly and afforded the protections already granted to them in existing law.
We believe three overall concepts could create greater fairness for the working men and women of Hudson County and more tax revenue for local governments:
• More aggressive and comprehensive enforcement – at every level of government – of existing laws;
• Stronger, smarter labor laws – New Jersey lags behind neighboring states in establishing modern, effective laws; and
• Awareness – the problem is in plain sight, but too many officials in government are willing to ignore it.
The Hudson County Board of Freeholders, led by Freeholder William O’Dea, took a brave first step by challenging a powerful industry, and hopefully other politicians will follow, as we have a long way to go to achieve fairness for the people who build the progress in this county and our state.

Richard Tolson
Director, International Union of Bricklayers
and Allied Craftworkers
Administrative District Council, New Jersey
Locals No. 4 & 5