Why some city contractors are being accused of wage theft

HOUSTON – Some companies with multimillion dollar city of Houston contracts are being accused of wage theft -- not paying their workers overtime that they earned.

Nearly a year after complaints were filed, the city of Houston is now acknowledging the companies violated city rules and telling them to pay up or lose their contracts. In fact one company has already lost its contract over the issue.

What happened?

More than 40 people working for companies contracted by the city of Houston for security and janitorial services say they are owed more than $200,000 in back pay.

Most of them filed complaints with the city last April and now nearly a year later, the city is finally saying their claims are justified.

How are workers affected?

Laura Lasoya took her story of wage theft while working for a city-contracted janitorial service to council members last year.

The city found her claims to be true and in a letter instructed subcontractor JBM Janitorial Maintenance to pay her more than $13,000 in earned overtime wages.

How many companies are involved?

The city's Office of Inspector General has since sent out even more letters to janitorial and security firms contracted by the city warning them to pay up or be put out. But the Service Employees International Union said most workers have only been paid a fraction of what they're owed or haven't been paid at all.

"And the contractors are still at the city being able to do business in the city while workers are still owed major amounts of money," Elsa Caballero, president of SEIU Texas, said.

She said the city's wage theft ordinance created in 2013 doesn't have enough teeth.

"Even though the city has given them these letters and told that they are owed money, there's nothing that the city can do to force the contractors to pay them," Caballero said.

What are contractors saying?

KPRC2 reached out to two of the contractors at the center of the claims, Norred and Associates, which provides security guard service for the city, and McLemore Building Maintenance.

A spokesperson for Norred had no comment and McLemore never got back to us.

"Wage theft is a crime and when you commit wage theft with workers who are barely able to make ends meet I think it's even worse," Caballero said.

How much money has been recovered?

The city said of the 41 cases where it found violations they recovered 100 percent of the money owed in just 10 of those cases.

One vendor that refused to pay was dropped by the city and the U.S. Department of Labor is now investigating those claims.

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