University of Minnesota unit examines wage theft issues

By Randy Furst Star Tribune
MARCH 23, 2016 – 6:12PM

A series of articles and videos about “wage theft” appeared last month on a University of Minnesota website, describing how a large number of workers in Minnesota are routinely not paid overtime, shorted in paychecks or not paid at all.

Those practices, which violate state and federal law, are described in detail at, which is sponsored by the Labor Education Service, a unit at the U’s Carlson School of Management.

The subject is also being discussed at Minneapolis City Hall as one of the pillars of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ Working Families Agenda. But it’s unclear so far what role the city may play in cracking down on wage theft.

The Workday articles offer a glimpse into the myriad problems of lower paid workers, often undocumented, who are sometimes reluctant to challenge employers for fear of being fired or even deported.

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Solutions to wage theft include education, organizing and enforcement (MN)

By Joey Getty and Barb Kucera, Workday Minnesota
February 22, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Simply passing more laws will not stop wage theft. This complex problem requires a network of solutions, including greater education on workplace rights, more organizing by workers themselves and improved government enforcement.

Many of the workers, community activists, union representatives and public officials interviewed for this series had suggestions for strengthening a system that is letting too many victims of wage theft fall through the cracks.

Education and awareness
Wage theft is a largely hidden problem.

People “sometimes feel like there’s something wrong, but they don’t know exactly what it is and they don’t know what to call it,” said Ernesto Velez, director of Centro Campesino, which does organizing among farm workers.

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Business-labor partnership tackles wage theft on public projects

By Barb Kucera, Workday Minnesota
February 22, 2016

ST. PAUL – A joint effort between contractors and building trades unions has led to stronger enforcement of state laws on public construction – making a big dent in cheating and recovering nearly $1 million in stolen wages and benefits.

The partnership could be a model for addressing wage theft in other industries.

The federal government adopted wage standards for taxpayer-funded construction projects in 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed the Republican-authored Davis-Bacon Act. In the decades since, many states, including Minnesota, and many local communities have followed suit.

Known as “prevailing wage” laws, these regulations require contractors bidding on publicly funded projects to pay wages and benefits in line with those of a particular location. In Minnesota, the state conducts surveys to determine the prevailing wages for different communities.

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Loretto Man Gets 22 Months For Lying About Employee Wages

March 3, 2015 3:26 PM



MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 52-year-old Loretto man was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to nearly two years federal prison for lying about employee wages for a company that assisted with state highway and road construction projects.

Jeffery John Plzak was ordered to serve 22 months in prison, pay $240,000 in restitution along with a fine and will be on one year of supervised release after serving his term. He pleaded guilty to one count of false statements on July 8, 2014.

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Minnesota unions want tougher laws against so-called wage theft

Minnesota’s leading labor unions are pushing for stiffer penalties against employers caught improperly withholding worker pay or skirting overtime requirements.


Posted Feb. 12, 2015 at 9:00 PM
By Associated Press      St Paul, Minn. 

Minnesota’s leading labor unions are pushing for stiffer penalties against employers caught improperly withholding worker pay or skirting overtime requirements.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO and some union partners outlined an array of law changes Wednesday that they say would give employees more recourse. Advocates say the proposal being introduced soon at the Capitol would increase penalties on employers found to have violated pay laws and enable affected employees to recoup three times their lost wages.

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Melin Introduces Bill Combating Wage Theft

Costs American Workers $30 Billion Annually 

POSTED: 03:52 PM CST     Feb 11, 2015


ST. PAUL, Minn. – Today Representative Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), joined by victims of wage theft, announced legislation combating wage theft.

“The American dream is about working hard and pursuing a better life,” said Rep. Melin. “But people across Minnesota are held back by employers who deny overtime pay, refuse to pay employees for the hours worked, or don’t pay minimum wage. This is how wage theft holds back people who are working to make ends meet.”

A report by the Economic Policy Institute shows wage theft costs American workers over $30 billion a year.

In 2012 the FBI reported every robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft cost less than $14 billion.

“The Iron Range was built on immigrate labor over 100 years ago. Wage theft was happening then and it is happening now. That is really unfortunate and disheartening and it is time we fixed the problem.”

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2 swindled workers of Minnesota prevailing wage, charges say

By Marino Eccher

Hennepin County prosecutors say two owners of an electrical contracting company cheated their employees out of agreed-upon wages. Thomas Robert Clifton, 50, of Lake Elmo, and Earl Keith Standafter, 57, of Burnsville, each face one count of felony theft by swindle. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the charges Monday.

Prosecutors say the two men, owners of C&S Electric, won a 2010 bid for renovation work at Normandale College in which they agreed to pay their employees the prevailing wage — the pay rate required for state-funded construction projects.

The rate at the time for the 16 company electricians on the project was $58.50 per hour.

During the project, the two defendants signed documents showing they were in compliance with that requirement, according to the criminal charges. But afterward, a complaint was filed with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

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US Labor Department files suit against Northwest Title Agency to recover $230,688 in unpaid wages and benefits for 10 employees on HUD project

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. — An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has determined that White Bear Lake-based Northwest Title Agency Inc. failed to pay $230,688 in prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits to 10 workers, in violation of the Service Contract Act. The employees worked on real estate closings for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-owned projects in Minnesota.

“Contractors that do business with the federal government have an obligation to pay their employees the required contractual rates and benefits,” said Theresa Walls, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Minneapolis. “When employers fail to do so, the department will not hesitate to pursue legal action, including debarment, to ensure employees working on federally funded projects are properly paid.”

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Building Trades Unions Combine Efforts to Pass Responsible Contractor Legislation

When it comes to public construction projects in Minnesota, the law says that the lowest responsible bidder gets the job. What constitutes a “responsible bidder” wasn’t clearly defined in the law, however.

Too often, unscrupulous contractors skirt the law to win bids on taxpayer-funded projects. During the recent legislative session, the unions of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades spearheaded an effort to rectify this, culminating in passage of a bill establishing criteria that contractors must meet when they submit bids to state or local governments.

A bi-partisan effort, with authors from both the Democrats and Republicans, the bill passed the House 84-38 and the Senate 59-0 and was signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton.

“The Trades were frustrated that unscrupulous bidders were being awarded public contracts on all sorts of jobs,” said Kyle Makarios, director of Government Affairs for the Regional Council of Carpenters and leader of the lobbying effort. “We put our heads together to come up with a mechanism to fix the problem.

State Suspends Concrete Contractor After Price-Fixing Plea

A concrete contractor convicted of fixing prices for ready-mix concrete in Iowa can no longer receive contracts from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
This month’s MnDOT suspension order for GCC Alliance Concrete grew out of a federal probe that revealed four concrete makers in Iowa conspired for three years to fix prices and rig bids for contracts. The investigation sent at least two executives to prison, including former GCC sales manager, Steven VandeBrake, who is close to finishing a 48-month sentence.

Under state law, Minnesota has to cut ties with contractors convicted of crimes. The company itself was charged criminally (yes, that can happen) and pleaded guilty in 2011 to violating anti-trust laws. Its punishment: 18 months probation, as well as $100,000 in free concrete for the paving and masonry needs of local non-profit organizations.

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