Philadelphia City Council targets unlicensed contractors in hearing on 'underground economy'

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council is calling for more enforcement of construction regulations on what it calls the "underground economy." 

Contractors who fail to get permits, who provide false information or pay workers under the table not only rob the city of revenue but potentially create unsafe conditions for workers and homeowners, according to deputy mayor for labor, Rich Lazer.

"People's lives are at stake when unlicensed and, quite possibly, unqualified contractors do construction work. Honest businesses lose out when they are undercut by fly-by-night operators. And hardworking construction workers get underpaid for the quality and value of their labor as unlicensed work depresses wages and becomes a race to the bottom," Lazer said. 

The issue has been a central concern of labor unions, and the special hearing on Friday was called by Councilmember Bobby Henon, who is also employed by the electricians' union. 

Henon is under federal indictment for allegedly using his office to do the union leader's bidding, but he says the hearing was designed for the safety of citizens and fiscal health of the city.

"This is going to be a priority and in this budget I am going to ask the mayor and Licenses and Inspections to hire more inspectors so they can go out and address the underground economy," Henon said.