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No vetting by Grover and her Energy Commission or city solicitor Van Campen, and of course they deny any responsibility though they must have seen the labor contracts.
July 31. 2015 9:54AM
Subcontractor reportedly violated wage laws at MHS
By Aaron Leibowitz
In 2013, Matt Lash of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 pulled over at the site of a solar panel installation at a public school in Newton. It was not a union project, but Lash decided to approach the workers on their lunch break anyway.
What he heard alarmed him.
“I just asked what type of work they were doing,” Lash told the Free Press last week. “I’ve been around the block long enough to know when some red flags arise.”
The contractor on that project, Beaumont Solar Co., was also installing panels on the roof of Melrose High School at the time. On June 23, the New Bedford-based solar energy company was ordered by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office to pay more than $125,000 for violating prevailing wage laws for workers in Melrose, Newton and New Bedford.
That ruling came 21 months after Lash’s union filed a complaint to the AG’s office, which opened an investigation in September 2013.
“The investigation revealed that the company had improperly classified electricians as laborers, paid workers at an apprentice rate without the requisite number of electricians on site, and made improper reductions from the prevailing wage,” the announcement from the AG’s office read. “As a result, 18 employees were paid less than the applicable prevailing wage, and the company failed to provide true and accurate certified payroll records to awarding authorities.”
Because the solar panel installations were classified as public works projects, the contractor was required to pay its workers based on the prevailing wages established by the AG’s Wage and Hour Division. For allegedly failing to do so, Beaumont Solar Co. was ordered to pay nearly $83,000 in restitution and $42,500 in penalties, including a $10,000 penalty for hindering the investigation by attempting to obtain false statements from an employee.
According to the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Beaumont owner Philip V. Cavallo said the company denies the charges and plans to appeal the AG’s order.
“We were very available and compliant with this investigation and everything they asked for,” Cavallo told the newspaper, adding that “the definition of an electrician is archaic and cryptic” in determining whether a laborer should be paid at the prevailing rate of an electrician.
Melrose hired a contractor, Ameresco, to build and assume ownership of the solar panel system at the high school, and the city agreed to pay Ameresco for the solar power itself over a 20-year contract. The city was not involved in vetting the installer, Beaumont, which acted as a subcontractor.
City officials clarified that, while Ameresco was responsible for submitting certifying payroll records on behalf of Beaumont, the city had no obligation to confirm whether those records were accurate.
“Our role is to take their certified payroll records and make them part of our project file,” said city solicitor Rob Van Campen. “We rely on them in good faith that they’re submitting good records to us.”
Beaumont, allegedly, submitted payroll records that were fraudulent. Were it not for Lash stumbling upon some red flags, the company’s supposed mistreatment of workers may not have been exposed.
Though the city of Melrose is not liable in this case, Lash would like to see municipalities keep a closer eye on the labor practices of contractors for future public works projects.
“We’d like to help them and educate them on how prevailing wage evasion is an issue,” Lash said. “Whether Melrose uses a union contractor or a non-union contractor, we want to make sure [the contractor] obeys the law.”
Lash is the Director of Business Development for IBEW Local 103, which is part of the National Electrical Contractors Association of Greater Boston. Beaumont is a non-union contractor, and the workers who installed the solar panels at MHS were non-union employees.
But this is not a union issue, Lash said. It’s an issue of fair business practice.
“It should be galling to any union or non-union business person to see taxpayer funded projects go to companies that aren’t obeying the law,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to all business owners who are trying to do the right thing.”
That is nonsense. Just as the City would be responsible if child laborers were used on a city owned job site, the city is also responsible for ensuring its contractors and subcontractors pay prevailing wage. All you have to do is question the employees and see what they say. Other municipalities and federal and state governments do this as a routine to ensure compliance with the law. Get ready for another law suit because now the contractor will come after the city for the cost overage. Thanks RVC; thanks Ms. Grover for your fabulous oversight[:|]
No surprise here about wage violations. Heard from a parent that the schools didn't pay her kid the legal minimum wage for working in the after school program.