But Mr. Lettire did not always make sure that those workers were paid proper wages and benefits on at least two projects, even as he took federal housing money, according to the United States Department of Labor.
The Labor Department announced on Thursday that Mr. Lettire, a founder of Lettire Construction, had agreed to guarantee payment of about $960,000 in back wages and fringe benefits for dozens of workers employed by his subcontractors as part of a settlement of a case brought against the company last year.
The company and Mr. Lettire also agreed to hire a monitor approved by the Labor Department to ensure that it complies with labor laws and contracting requirements. At the same time, the company agreed to investigate prospective subcontractors for their ability to pay prevailing wages on federally subsidized projects and establish an electronic timekeeping system.
The case involved Hobbs Court and Ciena, two affordable housing projects in East Harlem that were among the first to receive federal stimulus money, in 2009, during the economic downturn.
“This settlement makes absolutely clear that responsibility for complying with the federal prevailing wage laws rests with Lettire Construction and Nicholas Lettire,” Nancy J. Leppink, a deputy administrator at the Labor Department, said in a statement. “The agreement requires them to take those actions that any ‘high road’ contractor should be taking to ensure its compliance and the compliance of its subcontractors with federal law on federal taxpayer-funded projects.”
After a lengthy investigation last year, the Labor Department took legal action, originally seeking to bar Lettire Construction and 16 of the 23 subcontractors from working on federally financed projects. Regulators claimed that the companies “willfully violated wage, benefit, certified payroll and other requirements” at the Ciena and Hobbs Court projects.
Lettire Construction has agreed to pay $3,071 in back wages to four of its employees. Fourteen of the subcontractors resolved the charges by paying a total of $142,345 in back wages and benefits to 85 mechanics and laborers.
The department barred for three years Fairmont Industries, Sant-Tec Electric and Finest Security Service. The Labor Department is also seeking to bar Gladiators Contracting, as well as Enviro and Demo Masters, and obtain $815,638 in back wages and benefits for 40 mechanics and laborers.
Pedro Pablo, a demolition laborer who had worked on the Ciena project, said he was gratified by the settlement. Mr. Pablo said he had worked seven days a week, for 70 hours or more, over three months under sometimes dangerous conditions and often without water breaks. The subcontractor, he said, paid $13 an hour in cash, no overtime. “I’m glad we’ll be compensated for the hard work we did,” Mr. Pablo said. “We worked very hard, and it was very hot.”
In November, Mr. Lettire and a development partner, Jonathan Rose, received the Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Models of Excellence award from the Urban Land Institute for a project in Harlem, a 12-story residential building called Tapestry, at 124th Street and Second Avenue. The building, which has many environmentally sensitive features, has 185 apartments, half of which are market-rate, with the remaining units split between low- and middle-income tenants.
But Mr. Lettire has run afoul of officials on more than just Hobbs Court and the Ciena. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has cited his company eight times for failure to comply with labor laws and withheld more than $5 million.
The city cooperated with the Labor Department investigation and has ceased working with the company, according to a department spokeswoman, Katy Marshall.
Robert Bonanza, business manager for the Mason Tenders District Council, which had picketed Lettire job sites and assisted the workers, said the settlement “sends a clear message to anyone who has either worked in the past, or intends to work in the future, on publicly funded, affordable housing projects: exploitation of workers will not be tolerated.” He added: “Building affordable housing is a goal we all support and agree is necessary, but not at the expense of exploiting workers.”
Allan Bahn, a lawyer for Mr. Lettire, said that the company was committed to “doing the right thing.” After being informed of the problem with the subcontractors in 2010, Lettire, he said, hired an independent monitor and instituted many of the procedures now outlined in the consent decree. He said the company would be cleared to work on projects after the settlement was approved.
Ms. Marshall said, “We have no plans for any future developments involving Lettire.”