Category Archives: construction

Construction Contractors Beware: Think Twice Before Paying Prevailing Wage Assessments!

Construction hat and gavel.

Contributed by Jeff Risch, April 2, 2021, www.illinoisprevailingwage.com

Big Labor continues to use local, state and federal prevailing wage laws to target contractors they have a “beef” with.  Since most prevailing wage audits are triggered by a complaint (including 3rd party complaints), trade unions and certain union-friendly organizations can easily turn in a contractor with the general assertion that the contractor is not complying with applicable prevailing wage law. While contractors and merit shop trade associations could do likewise, they typically don’t for obvious business reasons.  Having concentrated my practice on assisting contractors with prevailing wage disputes throughout the U.S., this trend not only continues but is ramping up in recent months.  While contractors who intentionally cheat the system and ignore their legal obligations should get what they rightly deserve, many contractors are facing audit assessments that are simply  off or incorrect.  Paying a disputed assessment in the hope of not upsetting the government agency or believing that cooperation will bring you favor is arguably one of the worst things a contractor can do these days; failing to properly document your disputes with any assessment that you believe has been issued in error could be the 2nd worst thing.

In short, I am now seeing more and more audit findings that are just flat out wrong, in whole or in relevant part.  Additionally, it is often the case that even if the ultimate assessment is correct, the discrepancy is based on a clerical mistake, an unintentional accounting or reporting error or a case of disputed worker classification.  However, many general contractors and public bodies, especially local units of government, are being told that they must reject the bid of a contractor who has any past or pending prevailing wage complaint against it, even when the contractor is the low bidder. By rejecting bids or terminating contracts with non-debarred contractors who are simply fighting the good fight with prevailing wage issues, these general contractors and public bodies are depriving contractors of fair due process, stifling competitive bidding and ignoring their obligations to the taxpayer.

In these times, contractors need to be extra cautious and careful in any and all communications with any government agency investigating prevailing wage compliance. To be clear, every complaint must be taken seriously by the contractor to ensure that the record ultimately reflects that the contractor is not only complying with its legal obligations, but also free to bid and perform public construction projects without interference. 

With the above in mind, there are 5 basic rules for anyone performing public construction work to follow with an eye on growing prevailing wage enforcement:

  1. Know your legal obligations under any and every local, state or federal prevailing wage ordinance/law that applies to your business (note: what’s permissible under Federal Davis-Bacon may be unlawful under local/state prevailing wage law);
  2. Ensure your business is complying with all applicable prevailing wage obligations for every worker, every day, every week, every job — not simply paying the correct rates but also keeping and maintaining detailed and accurate time and payroll records;
  3. Never allow a prevailing wage audit or investigation  to be closed or remain in limbo without some document that confirms your full compliance with your legal obligations (you will have to do this yourself);
  4. Never sign any settlement agreement concerning prevailing wage issues without first reviewing it with competent legal counsel to help ensure that no admission of liability or guilt is made and to expressly state that you are free and clear to bid and perform future public construction work; and
  5. Educate your local units of government on who you are and highlight your good name and business reputation — get to know the public officials, get involved and form relationships.

Construction Picket Lines: What Union Workers Must Know

Contributed by Michael Hughes, March 16, 2021

11058927 – protesters crowd landscape background illustration

As the 2021 construction season gets underway, and with an increasing number of construction projects being completed with a mix of union and non-union subcontractors, many workers have legitimate questions about their rights and responsibilities on such mixed-staffed projects. These questions especially can arise when a “dual-gate” system has been established (creating a “neutral” gate for union contractors and a separate, “reserved” gate for non-union contractors), or when a union is involved in different types of activities at the jobsite, such as picketing, bannering (erecting stationary signage or using the inflatable rat), or hand-billing (handing out flyers to the public). 

This update does not address how project owners and general contractors can lawfully establish such dual-gate systems, but rather addresses common questions raised by subcontractors and their employees after such system has been established.  Mostly, though, this update aims to dispel common myths and untruths perpetuated by union representatives that simply are contrary to established law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

The following Q&A should allow you to answer those questions and, more importantly, educate workers (especially including union-represented workers) about their rights and responsibilities when there is a labor dispute at a mixed construction project.

Q:  The unions have said they don’t have to “honor” a dual-gate system and that any picketing on the project means that the entire job is being picketed. Is that true?

A:  This is not true.  Under the NLRA, it is UNLAWFUL for a union to fail to properly honor a valid dual-gate system (for example, by picketing the gate designated for union contractors). If the union sets up its pickets at the “neutral” union gate, an Unfair Labor Charge can be filed and the NLRB will seek a federal court injunction to prevent the union from picketing the wrong gate.

Q:  Isn’t it lawful for employees of union subcontractors to refuse to work while a picket is located at the project—even if there is a neutral gate for the union members to enter?

A.  NO. It is NOT a lawful work stoppage for a union tradesperson to refuse to enter through a neutral gate.  Such actions are NOT protected under the NLRA. Union workers can be disciplined/fired for refusing to enter and work through a neutral gate.

Q:  What if a union Business Agent instructs or encourages union workers to refuse to enter through, or work “behind,” a lawful, neutral gate?

A:  It is UNLAWFUL for a union or its Business Agent to instruct or encourage any employee to refuse to enter a neutral gate, or to leave a jobsite and refuse to work when there is a neutral gate established for those employees.

QCan the union take away employees’ pensions or blackball them if they enter a neutral gate?

ANO! This is a common tactic used by unions and Business Agents to threaten their own members with loss of pension or other sanctions if they enter through a neutral gate and work.  Such statements are completely and entirely false and unlawfulA union cannot punish—and cannot threaten to punish—any employee who enters a neutral gate and works.

Q: If the union is “bannering” or hand-billing, isn’t that the same as picketing?

A: NO. If the union is bannering (using stationary signage or the inflatable rat) or handing out flyers to the public, without normal picketing, the NLRB currently says that is NOT a picket line. It is not a lawful work stoppage to refuse to work during bannering/leafletting and, just like the above, it is illegal for a union to threaten or take action against employees who work in those circumstances.

SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Employment Group serves as labor counsel to multiple construction industry associations and has particular experience in helping owners, developers, GC’s and contractors  maintain labor harmony.  Knowing the law and separating fact from fiction goes a long way in ensuring construction projects get done on time and on budget.

UPDATED 11/22/2017: Deadline to Electronically Submit OSHA Data

Contributed by Matthew Horn, November 21, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: In follow up to our blog from yesterday, OSHA issued a press release this morning extending the deadline to electronically report from 12/1 to 12/15. All other information in the blog remains unchanged.
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On June 27, 2017, OSHA issued a press release announcing that it would be delaying the compliance date for its Rule requiring most employers to electronically submit their injury and illness data to OSHA. The press release pushed back the compliance date four months, from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017, so OSHA could review the Rule closely.

Dec1Just over two weeks later, OSHA issued another press release announcing that it would be launching its website allowing employers to submit their injury and illness data on August 1, 2017. On August 1, 2017, OSHA made good on that promise and launched its website, which is linked here. To date, despite OSHA’s promise to review the Rule closely, it has taken no action to roll back or delay the electronic reporting requirements, so the December 1st deadline remains.

Under the Rule, virtually all employers with twenty or more employees are required to submit their completed Form 300A for 2016 by December 1, 2017. In 2018, employers with twenty or more employees must submit their completed Form 300A for 2017 by July 1, 2018, and those employers with more than 250 employees must submit their Form 300 and 301s by that deadline, as well.

While we were hoping OSHA would roll back or delay the Rule, it appears that is not going to happen. Accordingly, all applicable employers would be well-served submitting their data online no later than December 1st.

Three Needless Deaths: Recognize Confined Space Dangers on Your Job Sites

Contributed by Patrick M. Sanders, July 24, 2017

Construction Site

Supervisor using walkie-talkie at construction site

On July 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a contractor for 10 serious violations after the deaths of three workers who succumbed to toxic gases in a manhole on January 16, 2017.

Preventable safety failures led to the deaths of Elway Gray, a 34-year-old pipe layer, who entered the manhole – a confined space – and quickly became unresponsive; Louis O’Keefe, a 49-year-old laborer, who entered the hole in an attempt to rescue Gray; and Robert Wilson, a 24-year-old equipment operator, who followed to rescue his two fallen coworkers. Two other employees and a firefighter were also exposed to the toxic gases during rescue attempts but survived.

Post-incident atmospheric testing of the confined space revealed lethal levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. OSHA investigators issued Douglas N. Higgins, Inc. and its related contracting company, serious citations, totaling $119,507, in penalties.

The incident-related serious violations included failure to:

  • Purge or ventilate the confined space before entry;
  • Prevent workers from exposure to an asphyxiation hazard;
  • Provide necessary rescue and emergency equipment for employees that were overcome inside a permit-required confined space;
  • Develop and implement a written hazard communication program for a worksite on which employees were exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases;
  • Use a calibrated direct-reading device to test for toxic gases, creating an asphyxiation hazard;
  • Create and document the confined space entry permit;
  • Provide training to employees in the safe performance of their assigned duties in permit-required confined spaces; and
  • Provide a guardra­­­il around the manhole opening, exposing employees to a fall hazard.

Full citations may be found here.

OSHA Area Director Condell Eastmond’s comments were all too familiar: “Three employees needlessly lost their lives and others were injured due to their employer’s failure to follow safe work practices.”

This case should remind all employers that confined spaces within the workplace often present difficult and involved identification, training, written program management and compliance documentation retention issues.

What responsibility do companies have to ensure that their contractors protect their workers?

Those organizations that have a record of previous “serious” violations must be aware OSHA will rigorously enforce employee training, workplace safety information requirements, toxic workplace condition testing and all related rescue and emergency safety equipment regulations and will issue repeat, willful and, in extreme cases, criminal violations, should subsequent violations be documented by OSHA.