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Raids flush out more crooked contractors in Connecticut Posted by on

A series of sweeps of construction sites in Connecticut this year has resulted in 27 "Stop Work" orders against contractors for misclassification of workers as "independent contractors." The results continue a disturbing trend in the state's construction industry. In the past year, the Connecticut Department of Labor reports that inspection and review of 108 construction projects and 299 contractors has resulted in 199 "Stop Work" work orders, an alarming rate of cheating.

"Some employers will misclassify workers as independent contractors with the intent of avoiding their obligations under federal and state employment law covering such matters as workers' compensation, unemployment taxes and payroll reporting," said state Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer. "Unfortunately, when an employer fails to pay for the proper coverage for injuries suffered on the job, and a worker gets hurt, the state's taxpayers ultimately foot the bill."

Avoiding tax obligations gives cheating employers a significant advantage in competitive bidding and negotiated pricing within the construction industry and creates a funding gap for state and federal governments, among other problems.

Media coverage here.





State, Feds raid Stamford mega-sites Posted by on

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.
 





Workers take the hit Posted by on

The Stamford Advocate ran another piece covering the areas standards demonstrations at the Harbor Point apartment complex. Contractors working for Harbor Point developer Building Land Technology (BLT) are working in Connecticut but not hiring Connecticut workers, not paying Connecticut wages and not meeting are safety standards.

The Connecticut Department of Labor's Wages & Workplace Standards Division has issued 34 "Stop Work Orders" to contractors working at Harbor Point over the last two years, continuing a string of bad practices and bad press for the city and the project's developer, BLT.

"It's disheartening to see so many out-of-state workers on the job at Harbor Point because the unemployment rate in the construction industry in Connecticut is twenty percent to thirty percent,"said Tim Sullivan, Local 210 Organizer .

Read the entire article here





National talk host digs into Stamford Posted by on

National television talk show host Cenk Uygur this week hosted NERCC Representative Tim Sullivan on his show "The Young Turks" to talk about events at Stamford's Harbor Point development. The two talked about how the project is undermining area standards for carpenters' wages and benefits and how instead of local citizens voting on the project, votes were cast by a single lawyer representing a handful of corporations. That's right, corporations voting, not citizens.

 





NYTimes gets only part of Stamford story Posted by on

"Stamford Plan Hits a Speedbump" is the headline of a piece in the national version of the New York Times today. And while the reporter seems to go out of her way to heap praise on the Harbor Point project being developed by Carl Kuehner's Building and Land Technology (BLT), the headline and the substance of the article probably make Kuehner wish the article had never been published. It's become a familiar feeling for him lately.

The Times article is about a dispute between Keuhner's BLT and Stamford's Downtown Special Services District (DSSD), which acts as a guide and clearinghouse for downtown development. The group participated in a grueling process to develop guidelines that B&LT is attempting to ignore with a planned 124-room hotel. The DSSD is digging in its heels and getting strong support from within Stamford, because, despite the Times focus on this single issue, Kuehner and Harbor Point have come under fire repeatedly in recent months for behavior that indicates a consistent, disdainful attitutde toward standards, rules and anyone that attempts to defend them.

The Harbor Point site has been the subject of repeated demonstrations by union carpenters calling attention to the presence of subcontractors on site who do not pay area standard wages and benefits for carpenters on all of their projects.

Local residents became upset and demanded answers from B&LT and Stamford City officials when a previously existing boathouse was demolished in defiance of an agreement to maintain a full service boatyard at the site. Mayor Michael Pavia seemed curiously ignorant of the situation until asked by reporters. The Zoning Board later ordered BLT to stop demolition work.

Not long after, an article in the Stamford Advocate headlined "Developer Shows Signs of Disregarding Rules" detailed a number of instances where the Kuehner and BLT acted as if they were entitled to do just about whatever they wanted at Harbor Point, including trying to restrict the public from using public playgrounds and parking spaces, illegally blocking streets and building without permits.

In recent weeks, union claims about improper treatment of workers were borne out when the Department of Labor issued Stop Work Orders against 8 subcontractors working at Harbor Point for violating wage, hour or insurance laws. Three of the companies were charged with returning to work in defiance of previous Stop Work Orders without permission from the DOL.

The issue is not new to BLT or the construction industry. Subcontractors on other BLT projects had been the subject of at least eight Stop Work Orders for misclassifying workers and other violations. One subcontractor, Heritage Drywall, was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in owed wages and penalties on a BLT project. A reporter permitted to do a "ride along" with the DOL on the Harbor Point visit put it in a greater context of an industry spiraling out of control and costing honest businesses and taxpayers more than they know.

Despite the current "speed bumps," the Harbor Point project and a companion hotel will undoubtedly be completed in some fashion and will benefit the City. But Stamford and its residents might suggest a few flashing yellow or red lights for those dealing with Kuehner and BLT in the future.

 





Stop work orders issued at Harbor Point, media depicts industry mess Posted by on

The Connecticut Department of Labor's Wages & Workplace Standards Division, has issued "Stop Work Orders" against eight contractors working on the Harbor Point project in Stamford, continuing a string of bad practices and bad press for the city and the project's developer, Carl Kuehner's Building and Land Technology (BLT).

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.





Stamford developer still in hot water Posted by on

Despite trying to pack the hall with its own supporters, a Stamford developer still faced a tough room last night in a Zoning Board meeting to discuss its future plans and ongoing zoning violations (also here) at their Harbor Point project. Building and Land Technology (BLT) has come under fire for its choice of subcontractors, labor violations on its projects and contributing to industry-wide issues targeted by enforcement agencies.

The seriousness of the issues at Harbor Point is compounded by the seeming lack of interest and/or ability of Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia.





Troubling state of affairs in Stamford Posted by on

John Cunningham, Business Manager for Carpenters Local 210, has written an opinion piece, published in the Stamford Advocate today highlighting some very dangerous trends in the area's construction industry. A young trades worker was killed when he was blown off a roof in a very preventable accident. He and his brothers were owed more than $6,000 in wages, according to reports. Stop Work Orders issued against contractors who don't carry workers' compensation insurance for their crews or who misclassify workers to avoid payroll taxes and their share of other "safety net" programs are becoming more and more common. Major projects being done by major developers are involved.


The last few months should serve as something of a wake-up call for everyone from workers to elected officials and everyone in between. It is especially necessary that general contractors, construction managers and developers begin to pay more attention to what is actually happening on their sites.


Union carpenters have also begun to make more noise in the streets, demonstrating and asking people to pay a more attention to these very serious issues. The industry needs basic standards for how work is done and how workers are treated. Contractors who only focus on getting jobs, investors interested in only profits and elected officials interested in only ribbon cuttings and job creation statistics can not be relied on to follow through. Union carpenters intend to lead the fight.