Before construction could begin on what would become Trump Tower in New York City, Donald Trump needed to rid the site of the old Bonwit Teller building — and in 1980, he hired a crew of 200 undocumented Polish workers to do it.
According to a November 2017 New York Times report, the men “worked in 12-hour shifts, without gloves, hard hats or masks,” doing the dangerous work for as little as $4 an hour, if they were even paid at all.
Their treatment led to years of litigation over Mr. Trump’s labor practices, and in 1998, despite frequent claims that he never settles lawsuits, Mr. Trump quietly reached an agreement to end a class-action suit over the Bonwit Teller demolition in which he was a defendant.
Trump maintained that he didn’t know the bulk of the workers were undocumented immigrants — a group of people he has railed against as president — but witnesses said the real estate developer was being less than truthful.
[A] foreman on the job, Zbignew Goryn, testified that Mr. Trump visited the site, marveling to him about the Polish crew.
“He liked the way the men were working on 57th Street,” Mr. Goryn said. “He said, ‘Those Polish guys are good, hard workers.’”
The demolition began in January 1980. It was hard, dirty work, breaking up concrete floors, ripping out electrical wiring and cutting pipes while laboring in a cloud of dust and asbestos.
Wojciech Kozak was one of those undocumented workers, though he since became a U.S. citizen in 1995, and he continues to live with the consequences of working in such an environment.
He has blue eyes and a strong handshake, but speaks through a special device because he had a tracheotomy for cancer. He proudly showed off his citizenship papers, dated Nov. 3, 1995.
Mr. Kozak still recalls the work, and seeing Mr. Trump at the site in 1980.
“We were working, 12, 16 hours a day and were paid $4 an hour,” he said. “Because I worked with an acetylene torch, I got $5 an hour. We worked without masks. Nobody knew what asbestos was. I was an immigrant. I worked very hard.”
Trump had hired William Kaszycki of Kaszycki & Sons for the demolition project, and eventually, Kaszycki stopped paying the undocumented workers.
The crew soon hired attorney John Szabo, who went to the Trump Organization and threatened to place a mechanic’s lien on the property if the workers were not paid.
When problems remained, Szabo followed through and filed the lien, at which point Trump threatened to have the men deported.
Mr. Szabo got the Labor Department to open a wages-and-hours case for the men, which ultimately won a judgment of $254,000 against Mr. Kaszycki.
Mr. Kaszycki had signed a contract with Local 79 of the House Wreckers Union. But while Mr. Kaszycki or Mr. Trump paid into the union welfare funds for the handful of union workers on the job, they had not done so for the bulk of the work force, the undocumented, nonunion Poles.
A union dissident and former boxer, Harry Diduck, brought a case in federal court in 1983 against Mr. Kaszycki and, eventually, Mr. Trump and others, claiming that Mr. Kaszycki, the union president and Mr. Trump had colluded to deprive the welfare funds of about $600,000.
In the end, Trump settled for $1.375 million, “100 percent of the maximum amount plaintiffs could recover” plus attorneys’ fees, according to Wendy Sloan, one of the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the original case.