by ANDREA RUBIN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: January 29, 2003)
Six landscapers who state officials said hired day laborers without paying workers compensation and other insurance were arrested and charged with fraud this week.
The six employers had submitted forms to the Workers' Compensation Board claiming no employees, agency spokesman Jon Sullivan said yesterday.
The board and investigators from the Office of Fraud Inspector General and the Insurance Department's Fraud Bureau conducted a sting operation that included video surveillance. The video, taken last summer, showed the landscapers hiring and using employees.
"We found that while they had indicated to the board that they had no employees, in fact they were hiring day laborers to do the work there," Sullivan said.
Under New York state law, all business owners who have employees are required to secure insurance to protect workers injured on the job.
The landscapers were charged with falsifying business records and workers' compensation fraud, both felonies. The charges carry a possible prison term of up to four years, fines and restitution, Sullivan said.
None of the landscapers could be reached for comment yesterday.
Sullivan said the landscapers used a "pool of about 20" day workers. He said he did not know where the workers were picked up.
Gail Golden of the Rockland Immigration Coalition, which helps run a drop-in site for day laborers in Spring Valley, said the arrests showed the need for employers who use temporary workers to provide them with services.
"It seems as though there are a lot of businesses in the area that rely on the day laborers for a cheap labor pool for people they don't have to put on regular salary," Golden said. "It obviously serves a function. The businesses have to utilize these people without exploiting them."
Golden said the workers who were not insured became the responsibility of the rest of the community.
"It's not in our interest, ultimately, to have a labor force that has no access to recourse," she said. "It comes back to us. We pick up the pieces where they fall."
Sullivan said regardless of whether someone was employed legally, he was entitled to compensation if injured on the job.
"If you're employing people and you're not ensuring their safety," he said, "you're basically pushing your burden off to others."