Wage Theft After Hurricane Irma

Cotton Commercial USA, a Houston-based company that focuses on cleaning and rebuilding structures after disasters, hired more than 50 construction workers in September 2017 to clean and rebuild two luxury hotels in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma — a Hyatt and a Hilton. These resilience workers endured weeks of grueling shifts spent demolishing walls and replacing sheetrock, hauling fallen trees, and cleaning up other debris so that the hotels, critical to the economic recovery of the Keys, could reopen. Yet despite their dedication, their employers, including Cotton, refused to pay the workers what they had earned. In the case of some workers, they worked five weeks and received only one week of pay.

A group of 18 of these workers took legal action to ensure Cotton Commercial USA would pay them the wages they earned. They worked with Resilience Force and the law firms of McGillivary, Steele & Elkin and Mierzwa & Floyd and recently reached a settlement with Cotton Commercial USA. As part of the settlement, Cotton Commercial USA will now pay a total of $50,000 to the 18 workers who took the risk to come forward with their case, which constitutes backpay, liquidated damages, and damages for retaliating against workers who complained. The workers’ claims against the temp agency and its owner, for the remainder of their lost pay and other benefits, remain pending.

The immigrant workers who helped rebuild the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma are part of a growing labor force of resilience workers that powers our nation’s recovery following climate-driven disasters. Many of the resilience workers involved in this case are veterans of the field, doing the hard labor of rebuilding communities across the country following natural disasters

As climate disasters become more frequent and extreme, private equity firms are joining the rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar disaster recovery industry. In the past year alone, four leading disaster restoration companies have been acquired by private equity firms– a list that includes Cotton Holdings, Inc, which was acquired by Sun Capital Partners in January 2020.

As communities across the country brace for the devastating collision of hurricane season and a pandemic, we must recognize the essential role of resilience workers. We must ensure that these companies and their private equity backers who profit from disaster, pay and protect the resilience workers who are essential to helping communities adapt and recover.

Read more about the lawsuit and the settlement:

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