No one wins when employers break labor laws, but whenever California’s star Labor Commissioner Julie Su announces the latest round of enforcement actions, it sure feels like a victory.
Case in point: This week, Commissioner Su hit three of the worst violators with over $1.8 million in backpay and penalty assessments for stealing employees’ wages, defrauding the workers’ comp system and willfully breaking a variety of other workforce protection laws.
First on the list was B.A. Marble & Granite from North Hollywood. According to a press release from the Department of Industrial Relations:
Labor Commissioner Su ordered tile contractor B.A. Marble & Granite Inc. to pay $539,051 in wages, $4,693 in apprenticeship training funds and $652,600 in fines for the failure to pay 55 employees the proper wage for installing tile in bathrooms at the De Neve Residence Halls project at the [UCLA] Westwood Campus…B.A. Marble falsified documents, attempted to intimidate the workers to impede the investigation and deliberately refused to provide information for the case in an attempt to avoid paying workers the prevailing wage and complying with other applicable public works and labor laws.
Even in a state with strong prevailing wage laws, such violations are common. Prevailing wage laws protect local construction wage and quality standards by removing any competitive advantage for lowball, substandard contractors willing to cut corners and deliver a faulty product. Prevailing wages also protect market share for contractors who understand that living wages and responsible, reliable construction methods go hand in hand. However, the laws only work when enforced, and this week’s announcement sends a strong message that Commissioner Su plans to enforce the law and make quick work of the worst violators.
Next up was Phoenix Floors from Orange. According to the Department of Industrial Relations:
Labor Commissioner Su ordered Phoenix Floors to pay $275,518 in wages, $5,599 in apprenticeship training funds and $123,150 in penalties for willful labor law violations committed at the South Orange County Community College District project…Phoenix Floors falsified Certified Payroll Records and set up a scheme whereby a third party, an employee, was paid 90% of the invoice amount and used that money to pay out wages to 30 workers, who were subsequently paid far less than the prevailing wage for the project. Phoenix Floors also failed to pay proper overtime to these workers and failed to make required contributions to a DIR-approved training program for the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC).
This is another favored scam of especially shameless contractors: pay one employee most of the money and force him to pay everyone else in cash. Then, when the contractor gets caught, he feigns innocence and fingers the one employee. Fortunately, on Commissioner Su’s watch, this doesn’t work and Phoenix Floors likely regrets their expensive mistake.
Addiitonally, the DIR reports that Johnson Business Holdings, dba Production Plumbing
was ordered to pay $183,807 in wages, $6,385 in apprenticeship training funds and $30,605 in penalties for issuing checks with nonsufficient funds, underreporting hours, and misclassifying nine workers in order to pay a lower prevailing wage rate.
Prevailing wage misclassification happens when construction employers lie about the nature of work performed and try to convince regulators, insurers and others that employees are actually in lower paid job classifications. For example, roofers might be classified as laborers, in order to pay the lower prevailing wage usually earned by laborers. Production Plumbing tried and failed to do just this, and now they’re paying the price.
On behalf of California’s workers, we applaud the fantastic enforcement work of Commissioner Su. Her efforts to ensure the responsible use of public funds, protect workers and promote legitimate contractors help keep California a great place to live and work. But on a deeper level, these victories remind us that our rights in the workplace weren’t easily won, and forces remain that seek to rob us of what we’ve earned. Every one of these enforcement actions inspires us to fight a little harder for what we deserve, and for that, Commissioner Su, we thank you.