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Friday, November 26, 2010

N.Y. Labor Department investigating Oorah of Lakewood

LAKEWOOD — The New York Department of Labor is investigating Oorah, a faith-based nonprofit company headquartered in the township industrial park.

The investigation stems from allegations that the company, or its contractors, did not pay workers at a camp Oorah owns in the Catskill Mountains near Jefferson, N.Y.
There are currently two active investigations stemming from a massive construction project at BoyZone, said Michelle Duffy, a New York Department of Labor spokeswoman. She would not comment about the active investigations further.

Oorah officials said they expect the labor department's investigation will conclude soon, and they expect a favorable outcome for the company.

Clifford Meth, the Oorah spokesman, said the investigation possibly stems from the dismissal of two people, who complained to the New York state government.

"They complained to the Dept. of Labor and we replied by producing their paychecks," Meth said in an e-mail.
"Oorah believes it is just a matter of paperwork before these cases are closed."

Last week, about 30 people protested outside Oorah's gates. The protest was organized by New Labor, a worker's advocacy group that has an office in Lakewood.

The protest was part of a national day of action against wage theft.

Workers hired for roofing, masonry and janitorial work claimed that they were not paid for the last three weeks they were on the job this past summer. They worked at the camp for five months. The workers claim to be owed a total of $60,000 in back wages.

"Regarding the gentlemen who were protesting outside Oorah, not a single one was an Oorah employee," Meth said.

The workers were hired by Fairmont LLC, a contracting firm in Brooklyn, Meth said.

Attempts to reach Fairmont officials were unsuccessful. Meth said Oorah officials are also having trouble contacting Fairmont. There is a dispute between the two companies about payment, Meth said.

Oorah gave the Asbury Park Press a payment schedule, copies of checks issued to Fairmont and Fairmont's invoices for masonry and tile work.

"Fairmont invoices often detail how many workers they had put on a job and at what rate/hour," Meth wrote.

"Unless someone is questioning the validity of these invoices, nothing could make it more clear that these men were Fairmont employees and that Oorah was doing business with Fairmont."

The bills have vague information about who worked when, and did what work. An itemization from one bill reads:

12 guys at 10 per hour X 76 hours = $9,120

6 guys at 12.5 per hour X 69 hours = $5,175

5 guys at 14 per hour X 72 hours = $5,040

Please note that the crew worked over time Total price $19,335

New Labor targeted Oorah for its protest because the workers, mostly Hispanic day laborers, were hired in Lakewood by a man whose first name is Hershel, said Louis Kimmel, the New Labor director of operations and management. The workers did not know Hershel's last name, but they had a telephone number for him.

" "Hershel' at least supervised (I don't know if he was the direct person that hired) the workers," Kimmel said in an e-mail. "His contacts given to workers included his cell phone and the office for Jewish Boy Zone."

When contacted by phone, Hershel declined to give his last name. He referred a reporter to Oorah.

Oorah insists that the workers were employed by Fairmont, and they have no legal obligation to pay the men for the work at BoyZone.

Oorah had one other complaint according to the New York labor department records, Duffy said. In 2007, Oorah owed an unidentified worker $412 in back wages for maintenance work, the department spokeswoman said.

Oorah was not fined because it paid the worker right away, Duffy said.

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