“Forced labor” case points up need for AB 1701

Forced labor, human trafficking, the construction industry, the underground economy and the need for Assembly Bill 1701 – it all came together this week in a story that played out in the Bay Area.

According to the Associated Press, at least a dozen undocumented immigrants who worked on construction sites were never paid or were paid less than the minimum wage in the federal case that broke in Hayward.

The workers were being forced to live in what the AP called “squalid conditions.”

Federal agents on Tuesday arrested a man the AP identified as Job Torres Hernandez, 37, of Hayward. He is accused of harboring illegal workers for his own financial gain, the AP said.

The story did not identify the general contractors for whom Hernandez supplied the labor, and that’s where AB 1701 comes in.

It is these big contractors and developers who are being targeted in the bill that currently is the subject of intense debate in the state Capitol.

AB 1701, if it is passed, will hold general contractors accountable when their subs cheat workers out of their pay.

State Building and Construction Trades Council President Robbie Hunter said the Hayward story points up the need for lawmakers to pass AB 1701.

“The reason these workers were able to be held as slaves and do construction during the day and be locked up at night is because there are general contractors out there that are willing to hire these people as slaves,” Hunter said. “They’re willing to hire unscrupulous subcontractors who cheat workers every day – cash payments, below minimum wage, no state, no federal tax.

“The general contractors, the developers that allow these subcontractors to do this are a large part of the problem, and AB 1701 will address that issue.

“These are workers that have no union and have no voice. The state and the Legislature need to step up and protect them,” Hunter said.


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