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Retired city laborer Vincent Edwards stands in front of his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn home, Sept. 23, 2020.
“It’s unfair,” said Vincent Edwards, pictured in front of his Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn home.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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White NYC Laborers Rack Up Tens of Thousands in Overtime While Black, Latino and Asian Workers Get Crumbs, Bias Suit Charges

Last year, Department of Citywide Administrative Services laborer Michael Maldonado earned a base salary of $74,184 working out of the city’s massive storehouse in Ridgewood, Queens.

A few miles away in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, DCAS laborer Al Scotti made the exact same base pay of $74,184 working out of the home base for the city’s tradesmen in a low slung red-brick workshop next to the Williamsburg Bridge.

All similarities end from there.

Maldonado scared up 48.5 hours of overtime in 2019, bringing his total haul for the year to $77,016.

Scotti, meanwhile, racked up 1,074 hours of OT, inflating his year-end pay to $133,256 — over $56,000 more than what Maldonado took home.

There is one other difference between the two men, both of whom hold the same title of city laborer and are assigned the same type of work: Maldonado is Latino. Scotti is white.

This disparity in overtime that favors whites over Blacks, Latinos and Asians is at the heart of a lawsuit filed last week in Manhattan Federal Court.

Mayors Mandated Fairness

The suit alleges that the mostly white supervisors at these two DCAS shops have perpetrated “a longstanding pattern and practice of excluding from the overtime rotation minority city laborers.”

Filed by attorney J. Patrick DeLince, the lawsuit accuses DCAS — the sprawling agency that manages city property, handles purchasing and administers civil service hiring — of violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating Black, Latino and Asian workers differently than white workers.

The 41-page court complaint details a trend over the last few years in which mostly white supervisors appear to favor white laborers when doling out overtime at the storehouse in Queens and the trade shop in Brooklyn.

Nick Benson, a DCAS spokesperson, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of the suit, saying it was “under review.”

Instead, he offered a general response: “The city of New York is an equal opportunity employer and prides itself on its commitment to equity and inclusion. The city has one of the most diverse workforces in America and offers a pathway to good, middle-class careers for all New Yorkers.”

By mayoral decree, city agencies are supposed to distribute opportunities for OT evenly among all employees.

Three prior mayors — Abe Beame in 1976, David Dinkins in 1990, and Rudy Giuliani in 1994 — all signed executive orders to that effect.

The idea was to eliminate favoritism in determining who would get lucrative extra hours and who would not.

‘It’s Unfair’

The suit alleges that about a dozen Black, Latino and Asian laborers working in the Queens and Brooklyn shops “systematically are denied overtime work opportunities that instead are given to white DCAS city laborers.”

The pattern is seen in OT records from 2017 through 2019 for DCAS laborers assigned to work alongside city construction trades staff.

About 90 of the 100 trades staff — carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons and bricklayers — are white, the suit alleges. Of the 12 supervisors in charge of all of these workers, 11 are white, the suit states.

Records show eight of 11 DCAS laborers who are Black, Latino or Asian have logged the fewest annual OT hours, ranging from zero to 86 hours per year. Six of seven white laborers have recorded the highest, ranging from 531 to 1,367 hours per year.

A city-run warehouse in Ridgewood, Queens, Sept. 22, 2020.
A city-run warehouse in Ridgewood, Queens
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The effect on the laborers’ salaries and pensions is significant. While most of the Black, Latino and Asian workers only saw their base salaries increase modestly with a few dozen hours of OT, the white laborers snagged hundreds of hours of OT that boosted their pay into the mid six figures.

Rewarded with a generous portion of OT year after year, white laborer Scotti, for instance, took home $160,280 in 2017, $138,078 in 2018 and $133,256 last year, payroll records reviewed by THE CITY show.

By comparison, the salary of Vincent Edwards, who is Black, barely changed with the small number of OT hours he received. He netted $72,215 in 2017, $76,827 in 2018 and $75,998 last year.

‘I think that it’s unfair,” said Edwards, 57, who learned of his white co-workers’ hefty OT payments when one of them bragged about it. “Before this whole thing happened, seeing those numbers it was like, that’s been going on for like 10 years.”

A similar pattern of racial and ethinic disparity appears to exist with DCAS tradesmen based in the Brooklyn shop, an analysis by THE CITY found. Of the 16 trades staff who got enough overtime to boost their hours by more than 50%, 11 were white, five were non-white.

In 2017, two white tradesmen managed to get so much overtime, they were able to more than double their take-home pay.

Cement mason Vincent Coppola got 1,384 hours of OT on top of 1,290 regular hours to pump up his $56,284 salary to $115,829. Plasterer Pasquale Caldarelli snagged 1,839 hours of OT on top of his 1,825 regular hours to double his $84,709 salary to $170,316.

And higher earnings means bigger retirement pensions, which are based on employees’ total pay, including overtime.

Retaliation Led to Spilling Secrets

The lawsuit alleges that the lower OT earnings mostly hurt the Black and Latino laborers assigned to the giant storehouse in Queens, while workers at the Kent Avenue shop in Brooklyn — who are predominantly white — consistently benefit from a generous assignment of overtime.

Records show that one white laborer, Christopher Fulgieri, experienced the full range of overtime experience when he found himself transferred from Brooklyn to Queens and back again.

In 2017, Fuglieri was sent to Kent Avenue, where he was getting plenty of overtime. Nevertheless, he began to complain it wasn’t enough, according to the lawsuit.

A worker heads into a city-owned warehouse no Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sept. 22, 2020.
A city-owned warehouse on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In response, the suit states, he was reassigned to the Queens storehouse.

After his transfer to the storehouse in 2017, Fuglieri filed a complaint with the Board of Collective Bargaining, a city agency that mediates labor grievances.

In his complaint, he provided a transcript of a secretly recorded talk then-supervisor, Mary Padovano, gave to the laborers in which she stated, “Last year I sat in this room with Chris [Fuglieri] and told him, ‘Leave the dirt here. Don’t go running upstairs and say I’m not getting overtime.’”

In November 2018, citing that tape, the board ruled that Fuglieri had been retaliated against for complaining and ordered him returned to Kent Avenue. The board also required that DCAS give him, as back pay, the amount of overtime that he would have expected had he remained at Kent Avenue.

During that time, Fulgieri saw his total OT hours drop from 598 hours in 2017 at Kent Avenue down to 72 hours at the Queens storehouse — then jump back up to 555 hours when he returned to Brooklyn.

His take-home pay fluctuated from $113,831 in 2017 to $75,593 in 2018 back up to $161,705 last year, including the back pay ordered by the collective bargaining board.

Workplace Turmoil

While he was at the Queens storehouse, Fulgieri “boasted” to the mostly Black and Latino laborers there about all the OT available at the mostly white Kent Avenue shop, the lawsuit charges. That led to the Black and Latino storehouse laborers discovering the mayoral orders requiring equal distribution of OT.

A year ago this month, the Black and Latino laborers filed a grievance with their union, District Council 37. After that, the suit charges, the white laborers became concerned that they were going to get less OT.

The lawsuit alleges that Fulgieri advised white trades workers not to work with Black and Latino laborers and “as a result, the white city laborers and tradesmen refused to work” with them.

The suit charges that following the union grievance, white supervisors handed out slightly more but still limited amounts of OT to Black and Latino laborers at both the Queens and Brooklyn shops. They also paired the laborers only with the few Black or Latino tradesmen in the shop, according to suit.

Last year one of those tradesmen, a plasterer named Johnny Figueroa, who is Latino, filed his own discrimination lawsuit, along with a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Figueroa alleged that he, too, was being discriminated against because his white DCAS supervisors rarely assigned laborers to help him.

In an April 2019 determination, the EEOC corroborated this, citing “witness testimony and documentary evidence” showing Figueroa’s white supervisor routinely provided white trades workers with laborers, “while (Figueroa) routinely was scheduled to work alone.”

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