By Gregory B. Hladky
4:50 PM EDT, October 8, 2013
Walmart's record for labor law violations at its Connecticut construction sites wasn't too pretty before, and it seems to be getting uglier all the time.
State labor officials say one of Walmart's subcontractors at a Hartford job now owes its workers about $60,000 in back wages. That comes on top of a laundry list of citations for labor violations at various Walmart construction sites around Connecticut in the past year, including one involving severe injuries to a worker.
Neither Walmart nor its general contractor have been cited for violations in any of these cases, according to state and union officials, because state law doesn't allow it.
One union activist argues Connecticut needs legislative changes to stem what has become an epidemic of construction labor violations that goes far beyond Walmart projects. Labor officials say financially desperate contractors and subcontractors at sites all over Connecticut are cutting costs by ignoring laws meant to protect workers.
The offending Walmart subcontractor this time around is Omega Electric out of Waterbury. Omega's representatives have told the state they weren't able to pay their employees because Walmart's general contractor (Callahan Inc. of Bridgewater, Mass.) allegedly failed to pay Omega what it was owed. A top Callahan official denies Omega is owed anything, and says it has been paid $2 million for its work on the Walmart project.
"They've missed some paydays... over the past three months," Gary Pechie, director of the state's wage and workplace standards unit, says of Omega's problems. Pechie says he's been informed that Omega ended up laying off something like 40 workers because of its financial troubles. "We have no authority to go after Callahan or Walmart," says Pechie.
Omega officials failed to return repeated requests for comment on this story.
Patrick Callahan, president of Callahan Inc., said in an e-mailed statement that his company "terminated Omega for failure to perform their work and for having their permit terminated by the City of Hartford... We also took the additional step of ensuring that their employees were paid."
According to Callahan, his company sent a check to Omega's attorney to cover the $60,000 in back wages after Callahan found out that there were payroll problems. He added that any money owed by Omega to its employees at this point "is unrelated to us."
Pechie points out that allegations by subcontractors of non-payment for work performed crop up all the time at construction sites across the state, and the general contractors invariably claim the work wasn't done properly or on time.
"They all play these games," Pechie says, "and in the meantime, the workers are suffering."
Connecticut labor inspectors have issued hundreds of stop-work orders to construction subcontractors in the last few years, and collected about $600,000 in fines since 2007.
State and union officials say this epidemic of labor violations involves non-payment of wages, failure to provide workers' compensation, and dodging state unemployment taxes.
In Pechie's view, these companies take a "calculated risk that they won't get caught… and if they do, they just pay up."
Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States, and it has been involved in a variety of construction and renovation jobs at store locations around Connecticut in the last two years.
State labor officials have cited 11 different Walmart subcontractors for labor violations in the past 15 months. Those stop-work orders have been issued at Walmart sites in Hartford, Danbury, Naugatuck, Putnam, and Brooklyn.
In August, a worker for a subcontractor at the Walmart renovation project in Hartford fell and broke his leg and his pelvis. (An earlier Advocate story incorrectly listed his injuries as two broken legs.)
A stop-work order was issued to the subcontractor, Anthony Construction, for failing to have workers' compensation for its employees. Pechie says that company was attempting to claim its full-time workers were "independent contractors" and thus exempt from workers' compensation.
Pechie says that worker has now been transferred to a hospital in Boston for additional surgery. State officials declined to provide the worker's name but said he is a U.S. citizen.
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