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.