‘Worker misclassification’ seen as growing threat by contractors, unions in the Region

Andrew Steele
Sep 3, 2017

As companies strive to increase profits amid a changing economy and consumer habits, the discussion often centers on challenges posed by the “gig economy” and its impact on work and employment.

Upstart companies like the Uber ride-sharing service tend to be the focus of concern; recent reports of such companies’ drivers speaking out against perceived company efforts to trim their pay bear this out.

But the growing use of short-term contracts in industries such as construction is threatening traditional employment in a way some say has reached a critical phase.

The fight is over what’s commonly called “employee misclassification” – or payroll fraud, in the view of unions and contractors. It involves an employer hiring workers as freelancing contractors who should be full-time employees, thereby allowing the employer to avoid paying payroll taxes, and worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance premiums, among other costs.

“It’s a problem that’s been around for many decades,” said Dewey Pearman, executive director of the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana. “But it’s becoming epidemic.”

Officials with the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters visit job sites frequently to talk to carpenters, said Scott Cooley, senior representative at the union’s local headquarters. He said he often talks to contract workers who he believes should be formal employees.

“We run into it all the time,” Cooley said. “It’s just a regular occurrence.”
Some workers in question receive a federal 1099 form at the end of the year, but others aren’t reported at all, and are just paid cash for their work.

‘No magic’ in defining employment

Classifying employees properly isn’t an exact science. It involves several variables, including the degree of company control over the employee; the financial arrangement, including who provides tools and supplies; whether there are benefits such as a pension and insurance; and whether work performed is a key component of the business’ activity.
The Internal Revenue Service lists 20 factors to consider, and states in its guidance on the matter that “there is no ‘magic’ or set number of factors that ‘makes’ the worker an employee or an independent contractor.”

But contractors and the carpenters’ union say some building projects are rife with contract workers who clearly are misclassified: their hours and duties are assigned by their employer, their tools and supplies are provided, and their work is a core function of the company – all factors that generally make one an employee, not a contract worker, in the eyes of the law.

(Read More)

Carpenters Union takes on wage theft at downtown development

By Bill Shaner
July 13, 2017

The Carpenters Local 107 was out in force earlier this week in front of the 145 Front Street development, rallying around accusations that a subcontractor from New Jersey has systematically stiffed local carpenters on overtime hours and pay.

Dozens of union members and advocates marched in a circle across the street, banging on buckets, blowing whistles and chanting slogans like “no justice, no peace.”

At the heart of the matter are five formal U.S. Department of Labor complaints filed by local contractors against the New Jersey-based P and B Partitions.

One such complainant, Edward Vazquez, said time-and-a-half overtime pay and some overtime hours were withheld from his paychecks for about eight months. When he spoke up and attempted to organize other laborers, he was let go, he said.

“Basically, I was getting paid a check, and the rest was in cash, but I wasn’t getting that cash,” he said. “Someone was pocketing that money.”

The five workers who filed the complaint were paid for 40 hours on the books, then overtime in cash, but two hours of overtime were left out and they were straight paid, instead of the legally required time and a half, according to the union.

Vazquez, a Marlborough resident and Worcester native, said unfair treatment was extended to local carpenters and workers formally employed by the company.

“I was let go when I was talking to workers about standing up for their pay.”

He said the case against the company is a home run, and consequently got him into unionizing. After filing the complaint, he joined the Carpenters Local 107.

(Read More)

Workers building high-end apartments in Worcester claim wage theft and payroll fraud

By Melissa Hanson
on April 25, 2017

 

Five local carpenters who were working on a mixed-use building that includes high-end apartments in downtown Worcester are claiming that they were victims of wage theft and payroll fraud.

The carpenters, who were employed by P&B Partitions, a contractor based in West Berlin, New Jersey, say they were victims of wage and hour violations. Three of the carpenters have filed wage complaints with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, according to a statement from the New England Regional Council of Carpenters.

According to the wage complaints, P&B did not pay the carpenters for all hours worked and frequently paid the workers for overtime hours in cash and at less than the rate required by state law.

Dave Minasian, a spokesman for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said the amount of money the workers claim they were bilked of is not being released at this time.

P&B said they did not have anyone immediately available to comment on the complaint. Minasian said P&B has not responded to his organization.

The Worcester Carpenters Union is assisting the workers in recovering the allegedly lost wages.

(Read More)