Hearing Scheduled For Oakland Contractor Arrested For Underpaying Immigrant Workers

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Monday July 06, 2009 - 03:13:00 PM

A July 20 hearing has been scheduled in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward for a prominent Oakland general contractor arrested in an alleged scheme to defraud workers and illegally lower her company’s insurance rates.  

In a 48-page indictment, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charges Monica Ung, owner of NBC Contractors Corporation of Oakland, and two employees, Joey Ruan and Tin Wai Wu, with grand theft, insurance fraud, and the possible falsification of time sheets. The district attorney’s office is alleging that NBC’s actions resulted in an estimated $3.6 million dollars in unpaid wages to 19 construction workers, with losses due to illegally misclassifying workers costing the state an estimated $1.5 million. 

Ung, Ryan and Wu were arrested late last month and have been released on $535,000 bail, with court appearances scheduled in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward for July 20.  

Many of the NBC workers who were allegedly victims of the company’s actions were Chinese immigrants who spoke little English. 

The office of the California insurance commissioner also participated in bringing the charges against Ung and the two NBC employees. 

As part of the insurance fraud section of the indictment, the district attorney’s office and the insurance commissioner’s office are alleging that NBC knowingly made false statements to the company’s insurance carrier in order attain lower rates. 

As part of the indictment, the California Department of Insurance said that workers employed by NBC told an Insurance Department investigator that “they worked 60-72 hours per week, and were paid $8-$9 per hour. However, their check stubs only showed that they worked 10 to 40 hours were week and earned $33 to $58 per hour.” NBC allegedly had their workers sign two blank time cards—one filled out with the correct time, one with the falsified time—in order to get around the clauses in their public contracts that required paying their workers at prevailing wages, as well as state overtime pay laws. 

Investigation of Ung’s company, which has participated in such public construction contracts as the Skyline High School, Highland Elementary School, and Piedmont Elementary School renovations, may have begun following the filing of a 2008 class action lawsuit by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 and the Northern California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) on behalf of several of the NBC workers. The IBEW and the electrical contractors association have suspended action on their lawsuit while the criminal charges are pending. 

Oakland labor attorney Ellyn Woscowitz, who filed the original lawsuit along with Oakland attorney Sharon Seidenstein, said in a prepared statement following the arrests that “because of our lawsuit, dozens of exploited Chinese workers came forward and gave testimony, not only for their civil suit for wages, not just for economic justice, but for the criminal system as well.”  

NECA Executive Director Don Campbell added, “we are elated that a contractor is finally being held accountable for many years of illegal activities. Contractors that cheat workers out of wages, and cheat on insurance costs, undercut good, law-abiding union contractors.” 

Ung could not be contacted for this story. She initially hired high-profile East Bay attorney Michael Cardoza to represent her, but has since dropped him and hired another attorney. The identity of Ung’s new attorney could not be determined at press time.