Denver, CO

Construction workers tell Denver City Council they struggle to get paid

David Heitz
Henry Desro/Unsplash

About 40 members of a union representing construction workers told the Denver City Council Monday they get cheated out of overtime and some contractors refuse to pay completely.

Several of the workers stood in solidarity recently to be paid $30,000 in delayed wages, a representative of the group told the council.

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters both stand with Colorado Council of Carpenters Local 555, Denver.

“Honest contractors are being fleeced by cheating contractors who commit payroll fraud,” the United Brotherhood of Carpenters website states. “Cheating contractors save up to 30 percent in labor costs by using illegal labor practices, and that creates an unfair advantage, allowing them to submit lower bids and steal jobs from you.”

The alleged cheating doesn’t end there, the website continues. “Corrupt contractors commit payroll fraud by intentionally and falsely misclassifying employees as independent subcontractors, or, more often, by paying workers off-the-books. Doing so enables cheaters to not pay what federal and state laws require, such as Social Security and Medicare taxes, state and federal unemployment contributions, overtime, or workers’ compensation premiums. Frequently, those corrupt contractors use law-breaking labor brokers to try to shield themselves from accountability.”

Group stands in solidarity, gets paid $30,000

During public comment time, speakers accused unnamed contractors of tax fraud and payment evasion. One speaker said 20 men did not receive payments for three weeks.

“We go on these job sites, and we make them aware of their protections, but they are scared,” one union official told the council.

But in this recent case, the group banded together “and took a stand against their employer,” the union official remarked. “We applaud them. That’s what it took for these workers to get paid $30,000.”

Wage theft still prevalent in Denver

The official said wage theft is still far too prevalent on the Front Range. Often it comes in the form of unpaid overtime, he said.

Members of Local 555 include concrete form carpenters, drywallers, lathers, insulators, finish carpenters, millwrights, industrial carpenters, cabinet makers, cabinet installers, bridge builders, scaffold erectors, acoustical ceiling installers, pile drivers, modular furniture installers, shinglers, terrazzo installers, residential carpenters, and floor installers.
Jakob Rosen/Unsplash

According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, employers steal about three-quarters of a billion annually from workers.

Denver law protects workers

This summer, Denver passed a law granting workers like those from Local 555 certain protections. Denver’s law delineates between an employee and a contract worker this way. “For purposes of this section, a person is a ‘worker’ rather than an independent contractor when the person is economically dependent on the business to which he or she renders service, and a person is an ‘independent contractor’ when the person is, as a matter of economic fact, in business for himself or herself.
Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa/Unsplash

“In making this determination, the trier of fact shall consider the totality of the circumstances, and it shall be prima facie evidence that a person is a worker when: The employer exerts a degree of control over the person at work, such as setting working hours, controlling break and lunch times, or directing the person when and where to work; the person earns a set wage or salary or commission; the person works exclusively for the employer, and does not provide similar services to other employers; or the person does not bring a level of skill and knowledge unique to the job, but rather the employer provides on-the-job training for the work to be done.”

Quick resolution to DIA janitor strike cheered

Also Monday, the Denver City Council celebrated the quick resolution to the janitor’s strike at Denver International Airport. City Council member Robin Kniech said workers will get an immediate $2.50 per hour raise and $4 within three years. Custodians with at least 20 years of service will get a week of paid vacation.

“We need language in contracts to care for contracted workers,” Kniech added.

City Council President Stacie Gilmore lauded Kniech for her leadership in the contract negotiations, adding “I think it was monumental that we got to this place so quickly.”

About 350 workers left the job Saturday morning but by Saturday afternoon they had reached a contract with Flagship, the company that manages airport custodians.

Council members acknowledged the struggles faced by Local 555 workers and invited the group back to discuss the issue some more.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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