Verizon to Press Contractors On Immigrant Workers' Pay

By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Verizon Communications said yesterday it might withhold work from some of its contractors if it finds that immigrant laborers who dug ditches for the company's next-generation fiber-optic cables in the Washington area were not paid for their work.

The statement by Verizon came after advocates for immigrants said they would rally in front of the company's District headquarters today, calling on the company to ensure that the laborers were paid fairly for their work.

"If it is true that workers are not being paid by subcontractors . . . Verizon will take the proper course of action," Sandra Arnette, a Verizon spokeswoman, said in a statement. She added that these actions may include "withholding work from the prime contractor, suspending the prime contractor until the contractual obligations are met or firing the prime contractor."

Representatives for the three groups pressing the workers' cause -- Silver Spring-based CASA of Maryland, the District-based Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center -- said they would press ahead with their planned protests.

"Verizon has known about these problems for some time," said Tim Freilich, a lawyer with the Justice Center's Immigrant Advocacy Program. "They need to ensure payment now."

Advocacy groups have been pressing Verizon on the issue since at least 2006, a year after the company began offering FiOS, or Fiber Optic Service, in the Washington area. The service uses the fiber-optic cables to send data via pulses of light, allowing the company to offer Internet, cable television and phone services over a single line.

Verizon contracts with construction companies, or prime contractors, to do the work. Those companies often contract out the jobs to smaller companies.

Advocates representing immigrant laborers have won some judgments against subcontractors in recent years. But they have had difficulty collecting the money they were owed.

CASA, the Washington Lawyers' Committee and seven laborers who dug ditches throughout Maryland and other states filed a class-action suit last week against one of Verizon's prime contractors and several of its subcontractors. The suit alleges that the workers were not paid for all the work they did, including some overtime hours.

"Verizon FiOS cannot exist without the trenches that are dug by these workers," said Laura E. Varela, an attorney with the committee. "And Verizon has the moral responsibly to assure that these workers are paid and continue to be paid as the Verizon FiOS network is built."

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