Comptroller Sues Over Millions in Wages Stolen From COVID-Era MTA Workers, He Alleges

Comptroller Sues Over Millions in Wages Stolen From COVID-Era MTA Workers, He Alleges

A mop buckets sits at the 8th Avenue L train terminus, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

By Jose Martinez | February 22, 2024

Contractors paid big bucks by the MTA to bring in subway car cleaners during the pandemic are accused of stiffing close to 400 workers of more than $2.5 million, a pair of new lawsuits charge.

LnPro Services LLC and Fleetwash Inc. — two companies that provided contract cleaners at multiple end-of-line stations — allegedly shorted the largely Latino workforce that cleansed and disinfected subway cars at three terminals, according to lawsuits filed by city Comptroller Brad Lander.

The comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law on Wednesday filed lawsuits to the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings that accuse the companies of stiffing cleaners brought in to back up an MTA workforce slammed by absences, deaths and retirements during the early months of the pandemic.

“Sadly, many of these workers were cheated out of the prevailing wage they earned, all while facing terrifying conditions,” Lander said in a statement. “This lawsuit brings these workers closer to justice and underscores the urgent need for accountability.”

LnPro Services and Fleetwash were among the third-party contractors on which the MTA spent more than $220 million in 2020 and 2021 to clean and disinfect subway cars at terminals, according to agency records.

LnPro Services and its president Nayely Delarosa — who is also known as Lily Sierra — are accused of shortchanging workers by more than $1.7 million at the Flatbush Avenue terminal for the No. 2 and 5 lines in Brooklyn, as well as at the F line’s last stop in Queens at 179th Street. The alleged underpayment occurred from May 2020 through February 2021, court papers charge.

Records show that LnPro underpaid 255 contracted subway car cleaners by amounts ranging from more than $13,000 to just under $6.

“Many of them saw this as a great opportunity to get a job,” said Hildalyn Colon, deputy director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a Queens-based organization. “They did a hard job when the city needed them the most and were exposed to harm while people stayed home.

“To be shortchanged is kind of incredible.”

LnPro Services did not respond to phone calls and emails from THE CITY seeking comment.

But when the company was accused in the early months of the pandemic of failing to provide workers with adequate personal protective equipment, Sierra told NY1 that “our team’s health has always been a priority” and that LnPro is “one of the top-performing companies.”

Lander’s office is seeking $876,923.44 from Fleetwash Inc., which provided 139 contract cleaners for the L line’s Manhattan terminal at 14th Street and 8th Avenue. That amount includes $511,834.98 in underpayment, $175,384.69 in civil penalties and $189,703.77 in interest.

Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) speaks at a City Hall rally, Feb. 11, 2020. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We will make sure that these workers receive the pay to which they are entitled,” said Claudia Henriquez, director of workers’ rights in the comptroller’s office.

According to court papers, MTA New York City Transit awarded a cleaning-and-disinfecting contract to Fleetwash Inc. in May 2020. The documents charge that Anthony DiGiovanni, the company’s CEO, “knowingly participated in the willful failure to pay prevailing wages.”

Fleetwash officials did not respond to a request for comment. A pandemic-era blog post on the company website billed Fleetwash as “the largest mobile washing company in the U.S., with almost 50 years of experience.”

The lawsuits are the latest legal maneuvering around wages for contract cleaners, with the MTA and Fleetwash suing Lander earlier this month in an attempt to prevent enforcement of higher wages for contract subway car cleaners.

That lawsuit contends that Lander and his predecessor, Scott Stringer, misinterpreted state law that had entitled workers to higher wages.

“The MTA’s position is described in its legal filing on the matter,” agency spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

It’s far from the first time fill-in subway cleaners have been tangled up in disputes over pay. THE CITY reported last February on more than 70 contract cleaners getting vacation and sick pay they were owed after they were let go via WhatsApp messages at the end of 2022.

“They treated us like we were less than human,” Maria Japa, who began working as a cleaner in March 2020 for another cleaning contractor at a Lower Manhattan terminal, told THE CITY. “They treated us like ignorant people.”

With the emergency COVID-era contracts ending, the MTA has hired hundreds of new employees to clean subway cars and stations.

Colon, of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, said that complaints about subway contract cleaners being underpaid extend beyond the two companies that were sued Wednesday.

“We still have four other companies that have done the same thing and we have workers willing to come forward and give their testimony,” she told THE CITY. “We still need to know what kind of accountability we’re going to get from those other companies.”

This story was published by THE CITY on February 22, 2024.

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