Man convicted of forcing labor on construction workers to be sentenced

A man convicted of using forced labour at a Downtown San Jose construction site will be sentenced Tuesday. Hours before Job Torres Hernandez learns his fate, one of his victims sat with city council members, re-telling his story of abuse.

In halting, emotion-filled Spanish, 31-year-old Javier Tirado says moving from Mexico to California for work turned into being held captive.

“I was stressed. I was intimidated, and I was accosted constantly,” said Tirado, through a translator.

Tirado and several other workers were forced to live in shipping containers while working at the then-named Silvery Towers job site in Downtown San Jose. Their rescue came at the hands of an FBI raid in 2017.

“Their injuries were so bad that there was a mobile unit that was brought there as well,” said Ruth Silver Taube, an attorney with the Worker’s Rights Clinic.

Job Torres was the on-site subcontractor, who was charged and recently convicted of imprisoning workers and failing to pay them what they were owed.

“We hope to share the story, because it has to be told to remind people that the kind of work that we do, the kind of changes we want to effect in our society still have to be worked towards,” said Huy Tran of the Santa Clara County Anti-Wage Theft Coalition. Added 2nd Dist. City Councilman Sergio Jimenez, “Modern-day slavery, still exists.”

He and other council members say part of the problem was that there was no law requiring private construction subsidized by the city to pay prevailing wages. A new ordinance up for a vote Tuesday would change that.

“It’s decisions like the one that we’re going to make tomorrow that’s really going to impact a family like Javier,” said Sylvia Arenas, a council woman representing the 8th district.

A new ordinance is essentially another piece of paper, and there’s plenty of that already in the city’s Office of Equality Assurance. Division Manager Chris Hickey says his team of eight specialist spend hours just filing, instead of personally checking and enforcing job site compliance.

“They have stacks and stacks and stacks of paper for all of our different contractors that we put out every year,” he said.

The OEC is launching a new computerized system next month that’ll make paperwork obsolete, giving specialists added hours for field inspections. The council vote Tuesday requiring prevailing wage paid on all city subsidized projects is expected to pass. And Jobs Torres, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for abusing the most vulnerable workers.