NATICK – Protesters gathered at Modera Natick Center Friday to demand the developer behind the 150-unit apartment project pay outstanding wages they claim one of its subcontractors owes to drywall crews.
About 15 workers and labor activists marched through the 6.4-acre site on North Main Street, calling on developer Mill Creek Residential to assume responsibility for backpay reportedly owed by New York-based Allstate Interiors.
Protesters say Allstate owes workers from one crew at least $43,000 for labor they performed on the Natick site and another project in Medfield since February 2015.
The protesters included representatives from the MetroWest Worker Center and Fuerza Laboral, a workers' rights organization based in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Chanting in English and Spanish, members of the group called the construction contractors “thieves” and asked them to compensate workers for their labor.
Two Natick police officers were dispatched to the area after protesters approached a construction trailer, leading Mill Creek’s project managers to lock the door.
Standing on the trailer’s metal steps, protester Aron Rosales demanded compensation, shouting “Abre la puerta (open the door), por favor (please), y (and) pay me my money!”
Officer Ronald Richardson ushered the protesters back toward the sidewalk after intercepting the group. Richardson agreed to deliver a letter to Mill Creek’s project managers on their behalf.
The protesters allege Allstate has engaged in a pattern of wage theft in Massachusetts, withholding pay from three separate drywall crews at job sites in Westwood, Melrose, Medfield and Modera Center Natick.
Phoebe Gardener, a Fuerza Laboral community organizer, said Allstate Interiors agreed to pay one crew $25 per hour and another crew $24 per hour for hanging drywall and $15 per hour for other labor, she said.
Workers submitted invoices and timesheets each week, but were paid based on job completion rather than the number of hours they put in, Gardener said.
"There's a big discrepancy between what they should have received according to that agreement and what they did receive,” she said.
Edwin Rodas, owner of Chester General Contracting, said 10 of his workers were hired by Allstate Interiors to hang drywall in Natick and at The Parc in Medfield, a project under development by Dellbrook Construction. Rodas said he was forced to pay the men out of pocket when Allstate failed to pay their wages.
Rodas said he hopes Mill Creek will take accountability because the lost wages are hurting families in the region.
"That's one of the reasons we come here is to ask Mill Creek to step up to the plate, because after all, the work was done here in their property and they should be liable on this," Rodas said.
William Cerna, an Allstate Interiors foreman, said he was surprised to hear the protesters peg the balance of their unpaid wages at $43,000. Cerna said he spoke with the laborers two weeks ago and was told they were seeking $10,000. Cerna said Allstate has already agreed to pay workers at least $8,500 for work done over the last two weeks, coupled with other outstanding wages.
Gus McGill, controller for Allstate Interiors, said it's common for construction companies to negotiate payment rates once the general contractor reviews the quality of the drywall work.
"It just seems to me it's getting ahead of itself, this situation,” McGill said Friday. “We're not unwilling to sit down with them and go through the individual items in question, but I know that in their case, there was unsatisfactory work being done from our perspective."
Mill Creek vice president Jim Lambert said the company reviewed its records after Friday's demonstration and determined Mill Creek has paid Allstate Interiors all of the money owed under its contract. He said Mill Creek expects subcontractors to treat their employees fairly and pay them accordingly.
“At no time in our history with Allstate Interiors have we heard from employees facing issues with payment," Lambert said in a prepared statement. "We encourage Allstate to meet with those individuals that have grievances and ensure that they are meeting their obligations in full."
Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.