A fire at a Quincy, Mass. apartment complex built by Avalon Bay has spurred an investigation into whether inadequate fire stopping in the attic caused the total loss of the building. The Quincy Patriot-Ledger reported that investigators found draft stopping in the attic at the Faxon Park Apartments was not continuous, as required, undermining its ability to limit the spread of a fire started on a top floor balcony. Investigators believe that with proper fire stopping, the fire would not have spread so quickly and engulfed the building so completely.
All 24 units in the building were destroyed in the fire. It was one of five buildings AvalonBay built and later sold. Inspectors are now looking into the remaining buildings to check on the construction of firestopping in those attics.
A group of nonunion carpenters went on strike at two projects yesterday, seeking close to $100,000 in wages owed to them. The carpenters approached the union for help after their employer--New Haven Drywall--refused to pay them and bounced checks for their drywall and taping work.
Carpenters first demonstrated yesterday morning outside of Cohasset AvalonBay, a project that has been slowed for years by permitting and economic reasons. Construction finally began last year and the company hopes it will open early this summer, according to media reports.
After securing more than $17,000 owed to 11 of the carpenters on the Cohasset site, the group traveled to Norwood, where they planned to demonstrate seeking close to $80,000 15 workers claim to be owed there. New Haven Drywall was also the subcontractor there, hired by developer Chestnut Hill Realty, which is acting as the general contractor, developer and owner.
The story also discusses the death of Oscar Pintado, a carpenter who was killed during construction of the project when he fell 48 feet through a hole that was improperly covered with unmarked particle board.
AvalonBay, which has been the target of numerous protests by the Carpenters Union in New England for dangerous working conditions and mistreatment of workers during the construction of large, multi-unit housing developments, has been forced to reach a settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office to resolve a housing discrimination lawsuit.
The company has agreed to make payments to the victim and "institute a broad range of preventive measures to ensure future compliance with the law" according to a press release from the AGs office. The suit was filed after AvalonBay attempted to evict a woman and her two small children, ages two and four, from their AvalonBay apartment in Woburn based on "unreasonable and unsubstantiated" noise complaints by a neighbor, which AvalonBay never investigated.
Enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts this week moved against contractors who have been violating laws in ways that undermine the ability of honest union carpenters and contractors to compete.
The Department of Labor in Connecticut performed a random on-site inspection of an AvalonBay job in Wilton, Connecticut, finding an out of state subcontractor who didn't have workers' compensation coverage. The employees of the company were sent home and will not be allowed to work on the site until they can prove proper coverage.
A representative of AvalonBay told the Norwalk Hour he expected the problem to be remedied soon, but did not indicate how they were able to work on the job without coverage in the first place.
Workers comp coverage should be of significant concern for AvalonBay, given their history in New England. Not long after OSHA had issued a series of citations for serious violations of fall protection regulations on jobs being built for AvalonBay, a 27-year old carpenter named Oscar Pintado fell to his death on an AvalonBay job in Woburn, Mass. He was working for a framing contractor which managed 150 wood framers. All of them, including Pintado, were listed as "independent contractors," meaning they were not covered by workers' compensation. His family was not eligible for any benefits or compensation.
In Massachusetts, the Attorney General's office reached a settlement agreement with Vincent Locke and his company V. Locke Contracting, Inc. over a string of violations for which they will pay a total of $100,000 in fines and restitution to workers.
After receiving a complaint that workers were not being paid the proper prevailing wage, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office began an investigation. Locke and V. Locke agreed to a settlement which cites them for intentionally violating the Prevailing Wage Law by failing to pay the prevailing wage to 35 employees. They are also being cited for violating Prevailing Wage Records Keeping Laws, violating the Independent contractor law by misclassifying employees as independent contractors and violating Overtime Law. Each of the citations cover violations that occurred from January 2008 through the investigation.
Locke and his company have agreed to make payments totaling $90,000 to workers and to pay the state $2,500 for each of the four citations. They will also be debarred from bidding on or performing any public work for a period of six months.
Also yesterday, Coakley's office reported that two subcontractors working on the Hanover High School project for Callahan, Inc. have been cited for violations of wage and wage reporting laws. Action Floors has been issued a $2,000 penalty for intentionally failing to submit true and accurate certified payroll while Superior Foundations was found to have intentionally failing to pay proper prevailing wages on the Hanover High School project. Superior was also cited for prevailing wage violations while working on the Swansea Police Station. Superior has been issued a $2,000 penalty for the violations and order to pay $3,802.94 in restitution to workers who were cheated.
The Hanover High School project has been a source of controversy for years. After fighting to win local approval to fund construction of a new building, local authorities came under fire for ignoring or excusing misleading statements Callahan, Inc made to justify it's qualifications for the project. The Town successfully fought to have put aside opinions by the Attorney General's office and a suit brought by union carpenters in Hanover that the project should be rebid. Treasurer Tim Cahill, who's office was in control of funding for the project, refused repeated requests to intervene.
Members of the Carpenters Union passed out information to Hingham residents attending last night's Town Meeting. The meeting considered and passed a motion a Proposition 2 1/2 override question on a town election ballot this weekend. Hingham must secure additional funding (raise taxes!)to qualify for reimbursement from the State School Building Authority for a school building recently completed.
Rick Braccia, President/Business Manager of Carpenters Local 424 submitted the following letter to the Hingham Journal:
April 23, 2009
To the Editor;
Last year, in this and other local newspapers, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters shed light on the illegal business practices of a number of developers and contractors, both large and small. In Hingham, we focused on Avalon Bay and its CEO, Hingham resident, Bryce Blair. It was our contention that our members, as well as every other taxpayer in the Commonwealth were being cheated by the failure of Avalon Bay??s contractors to comply with state and federal tax laws. In many cases, we were dismissed as sore losers because our contractors and members were not being awarded the work on the projects.
In February of this year, the State Attorney General??s office issued citations against several contractors who worked on Avalon Bay projects throughout New England. The fines imposed were for the same violations which the carpenters union claimed were standard procedure on the jobs, and in fact, were part of the Avalon Bay business model.
However, vindication is far from sweet. These same business practices continue unchecked, not only in the world of profit driven private development, but in public construction as well. As Hingham is facing an override to secure state funding for the new elementary school, V Locke Contracting, a major subcontractor on that same school is under investigation by the Attorney General??s office for multiple violations, including worker misclassification, falsification of public documents, and undercutting the state-mandated wage. I have personally interviewed several workers who worked on this project and who were paid in cash, at less than the prevailing wage.
There seems to be more than a trace of irony in this. Avalon Bay??s contractors, V Locke Contracting, and hundreds like them are cheating Massachusetts out of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in unpaid taxes. And now Hingham is in the position of asking their taxpayers to come up with more cash out of pocket to supplement the shortfall in state revenue.
I have to ask- where is the outrage? I urge Hingham taxpayers to visit the new school on Collins Avenue and talk to the superintendant. His employer, CTA, won the bid based on a cheater??s price. Ask him why you should pay his salary. I also urge any resident who sees Bryce Blair around town for a thank you or an apology. After all your taxes are subsidizing his business.
The Stamford Advocate, which covered the arrest and criminal charges brought against National Carpentry, followed up Friday with an editorial placing some of the responsibility on the project's owner. A portion is included below...
Question: Mr. Kirk's company was hired to work on two East Side housing developments, East Side Commons and Glenview House. If he is guilty of the crimes of which he is accused, should the owner of the housing developments bear part of the blame?
The principal owner, Seth Weinstein, says no.
"We hire a general contractor (Florida-based Thomason-Stevens, LLC)," Mr. Weinstein said last month. "We expect our general contractor to follow all rules and regulations and we have no relationship with the subcontractor."
In all due respect, Mr. Weinstein, we disagree. An owner of a development property should know what's occurring there. After all, he could gain financially from potential illegal building practices in this case.
John Kirk, CEO of National Carpentry, is the subject of today's bad news.
"In the civil lawsuit, the day laborers accused Kirk of violating payroll laws by using secret time cards and cash payments. The suit also alleges National Carpentry failed to pay overtime and minimum wage and eventually stopped paying workers altogether."
"After the suit was filed, Connecticut labor officials investigated. Kirk was arrested Feb. 12 and arraigned yesterday in Connecticut Superior Court. He faces up to $5,000 in fines or five years in jail."
Marshall's letter focused on Harbor Point, a multimillion-dollar project in Stamford's South End. In discussing ongoing concerns there, he referenced National Carpentry. A portion of that the letter follows.
"I strongly believe our contractors and skilled workers can compete with any out-of-state competition as long as everyone obeys state and federal labor and tax laws. My greatest fear is that as the economy continues to spiral downward, construction users and developers will be tempted to use companies like National Carpentry Contractors, which recently worked on the East Side Commons condominiums on East Main Street and Glen View House on Glenbrook Road -- developed by Seth Weinstein of Hannah Real Estate Investors and Ray and Paxton Kinol of Stillwater Investments.
National Carpentry, based in Tennessee with an office now on High Ridge Road, has repeatedly appeared in The Advocate for all the wrong reasons. Back in March, the Connecticut Department of Labor issued numerous stop-work orders on the Stamford projects for the contractor's failure to pay workers' compensation insurance. And more recently, 34 workers on the same projects, with the support of the Connecticut Legal Services and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, sued National Carpentry for failing to pay the workers more than $250,000 in back wages.
Mayor Malloy has worked diligently to revitalize Stamford's downtown with a combination of housing, retail and transit-oriented development, creating thousands of construction jobs for local contractors, workers and suppliers. But as the global economy continues its freefall, I worry Stamford will become the "city that works" for out-of-state contractors that illegally cut costs by flagrantly breaking state and federal labor and tax laws while the rest of us are left out in the cold."
The Boston Herald today ran a story on the Massachusetts Attorney General's investigation of subcontractors working on three AvalonBay projects in Massachusetts.
"The company has long disputed charges by labor unions that its empire was built on the backs of low-cost workers who were brought to Massachusetts to build the luxury dwellings."
Maybe next time AvalonBay could save the taxpayers of Massachusetts the money of having the Attorney General investigate. But that supposes they are interested in preventing this type of shady behavior on their sites, rather than profiting from it.
In addition to the bad news National Carpentery received from the Massachusetts Attorney General??s office, National Carpentry is facing charges of wage fraud in Connecticut, according to an article in the Stamford Advocate. Company head John Kirk was arrested and arraigned on 20 counts of cheating day laborers out of wages on two projects in Stamford.
"He's the poster child of how not to do business in the state of Connecticut," said Gary Pechie, director of the state labor department's Wage and Workplace Standards Division.
The Massachusetts Attorney General??s Office today ordered five contractors to pay a total of more than $36,000 in fines and restitution for violation wage and hour laws and misclassifying workers as independent contractors. The violations all occurred on sites where the companies were working for AvalonBay Communities, Inc. The projects involved were in Lexington, Woburn and Hingham, Massachusetts.
AMC Building Construction LLC of Thorndike, MA agreed to pay a citation for violating laws regarding misclassification at the Lexington AvalonBay site. They have also agreed to a compliance plan with the Attorney Gernal??s office that allows the AG to monitor operations to ensure compliance.
National Carpentry Contractors, which has been based in Connecticut and Tennessee was cited for misclassification and failing to provide pay stubs. Their violations were found on AvalonBay sites in Woburn and Lexington, Massachusetts.
DaVinci Construction Company has also agreed to a compliance plan with the Attorney General??s office. After investigation of their practices at the AvalonBay project in Lexington. F.A. Construction of Revere was cited for violations at the Lexington Project. C&K Subcontractors of Fairfax, Virginia was cited for failing to provide records for inspection in regards to their work on the Hingham job.
The investigation was the result of a referral given to the Governor??s Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification.
AvalonBay has long been under scrutiny for the way subcontractors on their sites conduct business. In late 2006, OSHA levied massive fines for safety violations on several cites in the region, but then rescinded them. Only months later, a worker on the Woburn site was killed in a fall resulting from dangerous conditions similar to the ones that had earned the fines.
Conn AG supports workers in suit against National Carpentry Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal yesterday joined immigrant workers who are suing National Carpentry to recover thousands of dollars in wages they are owed. Thirty-four workers were not properly paid for work they performed for National on a luxury condo development in Stamford.
NERCC Organizers in several states have been watching and chasing National Carpentry in an attempt to protect workers and companies doing business with National. In the last decade, they have been one of the largest nonunion woodframe contractors in the region, but with very shady business practices. They have been a subcontractor for Avalon Bay, one of the largest residential developers in the country. The company has taken advantage of the "coyote" system to hire and move crews of easily exploitable immigrant workers. Workers are hired through various layers in an attempt to shield National from employer responsibilities.
In addition to their hiring and payment practices, the company has a troubling record when it comes to safety. In 2007, Oscar Pintado, a National Carpentry employee working on an Avalon Bay job in Woburn, fell 45 feet down and elevator shaft and was killed. National essentially disavowed Pintado, claiming he worked for another subcontractor. The fall was a result of inadequate safety procedures and came not long after OSHA had issued significant fines against the company for similar violations on another job in the area.
The Connecticut Department of Labor has been investigating the company since last year and has issued several Stop Work orders for the company??s failure to meet legal requirements. John Kirk, owner of National Carpentry, also faces unrelated criminal charges stemming from an assault on the Stamford jobsite.
At a press conference with the workers yesterday, Blumenthal said:
"Today's action requires courage and integrity by immigrants, overcoming fears about their own safety and security, to report wrongdoing. Whether or not they were actually undocumented, their employer perceived them as vulnerable and thought they could be exploited.
"The employer egregiously exploited its workers, hopeful or certain that they would be reluctant to report abuse for fear of retaliation or other consequences. Despite its promises, this company paid its workers less -- and sometimes nothing at all -- for physically draining 70-hour work weeks.
"These reprehensible practices allegedly jeopardized lives and livelihood -- denying hundreds of workers fair wages and employment opportunities. My office is working closely with state labor officials, who share my concerns, to prepare appropriate state action.
"Even if employees are undocumented, they are still protected by state and federal laws that require fair treatment of employees. We will fight vigorously to uphold the law in this case -- and others when employers prey on vulnerable men and women. Substandard pay or working conditions for some workers affects all workplaces."
A full press release from the Attorney General??s office can be read here.
A story appeared today in the New Haven Register about NERCC Carpenters demonstrating in front of an Avalon Bay project in Connecticut. This major developer has chosen to turn a blind eye to the exploitation and abuse of immigrant workers in the construction industry; even when it happens on their own job sites.
The company would have people believe that all is well and they take care of any problems that arise on their job sites. Perhaps Mr. Kinter, from Avalon Bay, would like to explain why there were 10 Stop Worker Orders issued on their site by Connecticut state authorities.
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A few saturdays ago, the Boston Herald ran a prominent story about recent activity by the union to highlight problems associated with Avalon Bay projects. The union has been demonstrating in front of an Avalon Bay project in Hingham, educating the public there about the misclassification of workers on Avalon Bay sites. They are also talking about numerous OSHA safety violations on Avalon Bay sites connected to fall safety that generated citations. Fines were issued just months before a worker was killed in a fall on an Avalon Bay site.