NERCC staff recently spoke to a group of five workers employed at the Botany Bay development in Worcester who were owed more than $25,000 in wages and began making noise about it. Regular bannering was done at the site and last week a rally drew members of Local 107, representatives of the MetroWest Worker's Center, religious leaders and Worcester City Councilor Sarai Rivera.
The event led to pieces in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and Vocero Hispano, which highlighted the wage theft and the unwillingness of the project developer to do anything but turn a blind eye. The bad publicity may force his hand, though, as regular events are gaining attention and the support of the community.
The Connecticut Department of Labor was joined by the US Department of Labor, OSHA and local and state police in raids of at least four construction sites in Stamford last week in an unprecedented effort to crack down on payroll fraud. The Stamford Advocate covered the raids and published a column by Angela Carella calling for developers to clean up their businesses.
The raids targeted three sites being built by Building and Land Technology and another by Greenfield Partners. The sites have all previously been the target of numerous public complaints as well as demonstrations by union carpenters and other trades workers. The Harbor Point project being built by BL&T has also been the site of numerious enforcement actions. More than 34 "Stop Work" orders had been issued at the project prior to last week's raids.
Investigators talked to more than 200 workers, according to media reports, and will sort out possible violations in the coming weeks after reviewing those interviews.
Misclassification has been a serious problem in the construction industry for years, and something against which the Carpenters union has led the fight locally, regionally and nationally. Union efforts resulted first in greater understanding and awareness among elected officials and now regularly lead to enforcement and publicity on the issue that is either directly a result of union action or an indirect result of efforts initiated by the union.
Two items broke this week that reinforce that point. In Worcester, Telegram and Gazette columnist Clive McFarlane wrote about efforts by NERCC Organizer Manny Gines to chase down employers who cheat by misclassifying workers as independent contractors or cheat them out of their wages.
McFarlane's column ties into an announcement earlier in the week by the Executive Office of Labor in Massachusetts that more they had found more than 2,300 workers misclassified by just three employers. Though the three companies were not involved in the construction industry, the eye-popping $11 million in unreported wages and millions of dollars the state should have received for unemployment insurance payments generated new stories that put the issue in front of the general public.
Local 1305 member Dan Rego, who is a NERCC Organizer and Fall River City Councilor, is shaking things up in the Southeastern Massachusetts city. A few weeks ago, he raised concerns over issues with work being done by the Fall River Housing Authority. Since then, the sparks have started flying.
Rego spoke at a Housing Authority meeting and reported on conversations he had with workers on several FRHA projects in the city, some of which were receiving federal funding. Several workers had reported being misclassified as independent contractors, not being paid the legally mandated prevailing wage or not being paid at all. Rego told the Board that he had referred all of the allegations and evidence to proper state authorities.
The Housing Authority went into immediate executive session, during which they appointed their own independent investigator. The story quickly hit the Fall River Herald News. The paper then followed up with a vicious attack on Rego, questioning not only his motives, but actions by Rego and the union in the past to protect industry standards. This in a city where legal violations on public construction projects are not unheard of.
Braintree, Massachusetts-based Northeast Interiors has been ordered by the state to pay $20,000 in fines and make restitution of almost $16,000 to twelve employees. The company cheated workers on three projects in Arlington, Swampscott and Salem.
Civil citations were issued against Northeast Interiors and owner Kevin Fish for failure to pay prevailing wages for work performed ($5,000), failure to submit true and accurate certified payroll records ($7,500) and failure to keep true and accurate payroll records ($7,500). Violations occured when the company was doing work at Arlington Menotomy Manner, Swampscott Thomson Building and Salem Rainbow Terrace.
The Stamford Advocate has run a significant story on the orders, as well as an excellent piece detailing the Department of Labor's efforts to confront extensive problems in the construction industry. Both are well worth reading and sharing.
Avilik Inc., Flagg World, M&M Construction, Pillar Construction, T.F. Andrews, Brothers Contracting, Continental Tile and Kitchen Classics were the companies cited for various violations of wage, hour, insurance or tax laws by the Department of Labor's Stop Fraud Unit. None of the companies are based in Connecticut. Some are only as close as New York, some have come from as far away as Maryland, according to the Advocate.
Three of those companies--Brothers Contracting, Continental Tile and Kitchen Classics--are being charged with violating a previous stop work order by going back to work without clearence by the DOL.
The project has come under intense criticism in Stamford, where citizens feel the developer and oher companies based in Harbor Point has been given too much control with little or no oversight. Union carpenters have started an online petition calling for Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia to step in and give residents more of a voice. Please read and consider signing the petition here.
Carpenters who were cheated of tens of thousands of dollars in wages reached a settlement with Capstone Development and Cottage Builders yesterday to receive their pay. The companies are the owners and developers of the “Cottage of Durham,” an upscale housing project where the carpenters were employed. It will serve students attending the University of New Hampshire.
The carpenters solicited help in getting their pay after their employer, Builders Construction Services of Alabama, refused to pay them and then fired them and evicted them from company-provided housing when they asked for their wages.
The Carpenters union and local church, student and community groups supported the carpenters, holding a high profile march and demonstration last week. The event garnered significant local and regional media attention (link) that put Capstone under a public spotlight and raised questions about other troubles the Alabama-based company has had with college housing projects, including one in Connecticut.
“We’re happy that these carpenters are finally going to be paid,” said Joe Donahue a representative of the Carpenters Union in New Hampshire. “Wage theft is a real problem in the construction industry right now. It drives down industry standards and drives qualified people out of the industry. Capstone and other developers and general contractors need to be held accountable for the subcontractors they hire. They should implement better controls and have severe penalties for members of their building teams who break the law.”
Union carpenters will join with church, student and community groups to hold a news conference today at 3pm at the Community Church of Durham (NH) at 17 Main Street to release information about serious violations of state and federal law--including non-payment of wages--at the "Cottages of Durham." The "Cottages of Durham" is a new student housing development for students of the University of New Hampshire. It is being developed by Capstone Development/The Cottages of Durham.
Multiple enforcement agencies in Massachusetts today announced that five subcontractors employed by Pulte on sites in Eastern Massachusetts have been ordered to pay workers more than $400,000 in owed wages and make payments totaling $141,000 to cover unpaid taxes.
The order is the result of investigations that began after workers complained to Representatives of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters that they had been unpaid for extended periods of time. Workers went on strike at several Pulte locations and filed complaints with the state.
"The investigation fined five separate subcontractors, but the real culprit is Pulte Homes, a multi-billion dollar national homebuilder," said Mark Erlich, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. "Those subs are interchangeable and were just doing Pulte's bidding. Cheating is Pulte's business model and, unfortunately, that approach is far too common in the residential construction industry."
Subcontractors that were part of the order include:
--AM Construction Services and its President, Adimar Demoura, age 32 of Framingham, allegedly failed to pay four workers a total of $15,331.50 for framing work done on private residential projects in Braintree and Plymouth. They were also fined $22,500 in penalties.
--Five Stars Construction and its President, Alexandre Miranda, age 40 of Trumbull, Connecticut, allegedly failed to pay two workers a total of $30,700 for framing work done on a private condominium project in Natick. They were also fined $30,000 in penalties.
--Nunes Brothers Construction and its President, Tiago Aguiar M. Nunes, age 28 of Brooklyn, New York, allegedly failed to pay 23 workers a total of $99,086.75 for framing work done on private condominium and single-family homes projects in Braintree, Plymouth, Natick, and Northbridge. They were also fined $112,500 in penalties.
--Seven Seas Group and its President, Jackson Croscup, age 55 of Fall River, allegedly failed to pay five workers a total of $10,333 for framing work done on a private condominium project in Natick. They were also fined $20,075 in penalties.
--Two Brothers Construction and its President, Wellington DeLima Borges, age 41 of East Natick, allegedly failed to pay six workers a total of $34,751.50 for framing work done on a private home development project in Plymouth. They were also fined $34,500 in penalties.
Investigating the complaints were Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office (AGO), the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD), and the Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF). The JTF was established by Governor Deval Patrick through Executive Order #499 in March 2008 to coordinate multiple state agencies’ efforts to stamp out fraudulent employment activities by enforcing the state’s labor, licensing, and tax laws.
“All workers in the Commonwealth deserve to be paid for the wages they have earned, including their overtime,” said Attorney General Coakley. “We will continue to work together and take appropriate action to stop these unlawful business practices, level the playing field for companies and protect workers.”
“The Commonwealth is committed to insuring that all businesses carry both workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance coverage,” said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Joanne F. Goldstein. “We will not tolerate employers or developers who proceed without this coverage, which puts employees at risk and employers who play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage. The Joint Task Force will continue to take all necessary action to protect legitimate employers, employees and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”
Union Carpenters in the Stamford, Connecticut area turned out in force yesterday to call public attention to problems at Chelsea Piers, where a worker was blown off a 50-foot unfinished roof in October. The worker, Javier Salinas, was not wearing a harness or other safety equipment when a strong wind blew him off, causing multiple blunt force trauma, causing his death. The accident was completely and easily preventable and Salinas' death was tragic and needless.
AP Construction hired American Building Group, for whom Salinas and two of his brothers were working. Following the accident, American Building Group and two other subcontractors on the site were issued "Stop Work Orders" for misclassifying workers as independent contractors or nonpayment of wages. American Buidling Group promised to make a donation for Salinas' funeral, but reneged.Sadly, two of the workers owed money were Javier Salinas' brothers, who were owed more than $6,000.They wre going to use that money to provide a decent burial for Javier.
Chris Bachant, a union carpenter from Waterford, stood near the McDonald's parking lot and held a large sign addressed to AP Construction that questioned whether the company "manages" profits or safety.
"It doesn't matter to me whether someone is non-union or union," he said. "I don't want to see someone get hurt."
Ted Duarte, a union organizer at the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said the unethical and illegal methods used by some contractors to shave operating costs end up hurting licensed, unionized construction workers, who must undergo safety training and keep up their certifications. The practices undercut local contractors, he said.
"If you play by the rules, you're not playing on a level playing field," Duarte said.