These Are The Worst Scofflaw Contractors in New York City
Unscrupulous non-union contractors take advantage and profits and leave a mess for others.
New York City’s construction industry is riddled with corruption and exploitation, especially on non-union building sites. Laborers who do not possess union representation have long faced woes like low pay, wage theft, and treacherous working conditions, among other problems.
One reason big developers hire non-union contractors is to avoid costs they deem unnecessary. Of course, skimping on costs means buildings may be erected with low-quality materials that cause problems for residents later, or as is often the case, workers may be endangered due to a lack of training, or paid an illegally low wage.
Over recent years, there has been a reinvigorated push by union workers across the city’s construction industry—from carpenters to crane operators to inspectors—to bring an end to bad-acting contractors. Nevertheless, the non-union sector continues to thrive, and that fact alone allows unscrupulous contractors to get away with illegal activity.
ASF Construction and Excavation, and Highbury Concrete have both been cited for wage theft and other illegal activity, yet both remain very active in the city's construction industry.
“Nobody’s looking and nobody cares about what happens after the first tier. This is all non-union—no one is looking.”
At the very bottom: ASF and Highbury
When it comes to the heavy hitters among the bad contractors in New York, Tarrytown-based ASF Construction and Excavation perhaps poses one of the largest threats. Though the company has been caught for wage theft and worker endangerment, racking up approximately $75,000 worth of violations (one of the fines alone was more than $40,000), according to an anonymous council representative at the Area Standards Department of the New York City District Council of Carpenters (NYCDCC), that has not stopped it from pursuing immoral methods of operation.
“ASF is becoming the next big player, filling in the void of other contractors who are no longer functioning,” said another representative of the Area Standards Department who also preferred to remain unnamed. “One of them disappears, and another pops up.” ASF reportedly has a long history of endangering workers, and the potentially criminal behaviors the contractor has exhibited on its Westchester site are a pattern they may be continuing to perpetuate in Brooklyn.
Another company, Highbury Concrete, is arguably the most notorious contractor currently operating in the city. “They’re probably one of the largest non-union outfits out there right now,” the second anonymous representative added, “and they’re firing on all four cylinders.” (Highbury has long been associated with negative press; in 2016, a worker hired by Highbury for a Noble Construction Group project fell to his death.)
Trident is the off-shoot of an illegal "double-breasting" operation run by the company formerly named ACS, and RNC has a troubling record of wage theft and worker deaths. Both are flourishing in NYC construction.
Other bad actors: Trident and RNC
Other bad-acting contractors that have been particularly harmful to the city’s construction scene include Trident General Contracting and RNC Industries. Trident, which has long had a concerning record, was formerly called ACS, but reformed under the new name in 2018 after declaring bankruptcy, reportedly to save themselves from massive fines, and was sold. In fact, it was found that ACS was an unlawful alter ego of the union contractor Navillus, created so Navillus could avoid obligations to union benefit funds. While Trident remains present in the market today, their work “is very murky,” one of our sources said.
RNC Industries likewise has a troubling history. Multiple workers under this contractor have been injured or killed due to falls on their sites over the years, and RNC has also been found guilty of wage theft. Additionally, RNC’s principals were convicted of felony tax evasion in 2014; Richard Tonyes served jail time while Robert Dugan paid more than $100,000 in restitution. In another suit, several unions claimed the principals of River Avenue Contracting created RNC as an “alter ego company” to conduct non-union work covered by union contracts, avoiding making contributions to union benefit funds.
Some bad-acting contractors have gone out of business, like SSC High Rise and IBK Construction. But others, like Casino, are now seemingly less active in NYC, but through a warren of sub-subcontractor arrangements they're still able to have a negative impact on work and lives.
Not quite gone, but still causing harm: Casino and SSC High Rise
Fortunately, several of the bad-acting contractors that wreaked havoc on the city’s construction industry in past years are no longer in operation. For instance, the once-infamous Casino Development Group is hardly active today; IBK Construction and Parkside Construction are now defunct; Rovini Concrete and Sky Material Corporations are mostly inactive; SSC High Rise is no longer in operation following a manslaughter scandal; and StructureTech NY recently “went belly-up,” as one of our unnamed sources put it, ignoring its payments owed to workers, and is no longer functional.
Multiple unions banded together to bring down many of these contractors, not only by staging protests and demonstrations (and putting up Scabby balloons), but also by working directly with non-union laborers and conducting research to initiate investigations. Union representatives speak to exploited non-union workers to understand their situations and piece together the scenarios that can be used against unscrupulous contractors.
How sub-subcontractors are used to skirt the law
Corrupt contractors’ utilization of lower-tier subcontractors are convoluting the city’s non-union construction scene with even more woes. “Sub-sub-companies”—second tier to subcontractors—are nothing new, but have become common in recent years. Western New York Restoration, Lalo Drywall, USA Interiors, Capital Interiors, and Deadwood Construction are just a few examples one of the anonymous union representatives named as subcontractors in New York City who parse work out to “about a dozen different second-tier subcontractors,” or “shell companies.” This is becoming a common strategy in the industry, often leaving workers underpaid—if not unpaid. Because these companies aren’t legitimate, offended employees have no one to cite when seeking recourse. Shell companies are such a problem because they allow contractors to employ an exploited labor pool and get away with things like wage theft and tax evasion.
Casino Development Group, meanwhile, has used the monikers Genuine Concrete and Monolithic Structure —“and that’s just the two that we know about,” the second unnamed source added. Using monikers or alter-egos likewise allows general contractors to push employees off onto other companies. As the other representative put it: “My understanding is that it’s just like any other criminal—you start getting hot under one moniker so you switch to another.” And the sub-subcontractors, our sources said, are “basically unregistered labor brokers” who often lack proper equipment. This is unlawful. New York City legislation requires every company that provides labor for construction must be registered with the city. These unregistered brokers provide cover for bad contractors who participate in “payroll fraud” because, as one of the NYCDCC representatives put it, “nobody’s looking and nobody cares about what happens after the first tier. This is all non-union—no one is looking.”
Conscientious politicians, like New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, and protesting unions have helped to get new laws enacted that will hold bad acting contractors to task.
Shutting down corrupt contractors
Will the recent slew of new laws within the city’s construction industry help? After all, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently discussed renewed efforts by the Wage Theft Task Force to crack down on wage theft, within the construction industry and beyond. Plus, the Department of Building continuously works to “deter bad actors in the construction industry,” as it stated in a recent bulletin. Union representatives seem to hold the consensus that while new laws are being passed, the enforcement is not great—there isn’t enough manpower to ensure a stoppage of illegal activity like wage theft.
Union members have made huge strides in shutting down many bad-acting contractors, working closely with laborers and investigators as well as holding demonstrations, as detailed earlier. Representatives like those at the NYCDCC interview laborers and shone a light on illicit activity. NYCDCC initiated the investigation into double-breasting that reportedly helped to shut down ACS.
Nevertheless, corruption—which has long been present across the industry—remains rampant. Unscrupulous contractors continue to take advantage of non-union workers for their own gain. Mass organizing, though it is easier said than done, is a requirement to eliminating exploitation in the industry.
Jessica Beebe is a multimedia journalist living and working in New York City. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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