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Overtime prompts lawsuit

By   /   Friday, May 23rd, 2008  /   Comments Off on Overtime prompts lawsuit

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Organizations representing unionized electrical workers in the Tri-Counties have filed a class-action lawsuit accusing two regional contractors of labor code violations, including failure to pay correct wages and overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, payroll tax fraud and retaliation.

The suit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court will likely seek at least $1 million in purported lost wages from Santa Barbara-based contractors ACS Construction and Melchiori Construction, not including additional penalties, said plaintiffs’ attorney Ellyn Moscowitz.

In an interview with the Business Times, the Oakland-based attorney estimated there will be “several hundred” workers in the class. Both contractors have denied the accusations.

Moscowitz said the alleged labor violations first came to her attention following work that ACS, Melchiori and others did during renovation of The Granada on State Street in Santa Barbara.

Renovation of the 84-year-old, 1,553-seat theater cost more than $50 million and involved a round-the-clock effort to meet the deadline for the opening performance, but Moscowitz said her clients were looking beyond The Granada’s alleged problems.

“But it is our experience that employers that do these kinds of policies don’t just do it on one project,” she said.

The plaintiffs include workers Shane Roberts and Troy Turano, who were electrician employees of ACS, and various organizations including the Ventura County Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee; Santa Barbara County Electrical Workers Labor Management Cooperation Committee; and California Central Coast Chapter of the National Electrical Contractor’s Association.

Electrical and acoustical ceiling contractor ACS was a subcontractor for Melchiori on the Granada project and other jobs during the last four years, according to the court filing.

As such, Moscowitz said she believes ACS would be mostly responsible for the claims because it determined what was paid to the aggrieved employees.

Among the allegations made in the suit were:

• The defendant regularly required plaintiffs to work overtime without paying a rate of one-and-a-half times the basic rate for the extra hours;

• The defendant did not pay plaintiffs for all hours worked by requiring that they work off-the-clock for certain time periods;

• The defendant did not provide the meal and rest periods required by law;

• The defendant did not hold safety meetings, but required plaintiffs to sign attendance sheets for the meetings;

• The defendant “retaliated” against a plaintiff by terminating his employment after he complained about receiving incorrect wages.

The suit claimed the defendants failed to request apprentices from the required entities and failed to pay contributions to organizations that receive funding based on hours worked by union members.

As of a May 16 interview with ACS founder Rod Walters, the company had not yet been served with the suit.

But he said he is not worried about the implications.

“This thing is all fabricated. We’ve done nothing wrong, so I don’t know what they’re trying to do – if this is the union wanting to create problems for us – but we’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

Mark Melchiori, president and chief operating officer of Melchiori Construction, said although he is very concerned by the suit, he believes it to be an issue only with ACS.

“They’re the ones who employed the electricians and do certified payroll,” Melchiori said. “They’re responsible for the labor code and all that. We happen to be the general contractor for the job, and I guess [those are] the perils you take.”

No matter what the outcome is of the suit, Melchiori said his company is protected from violations made by ACS.

“We have a provision within our subcontractor agreement with ACS that makes them responsible for indemnifying and holding us harmless for these situations,” Melchiori said. “I’m worried about it to the extent that I can be. … I hope that turns out good for ACS. We’ll do our best to support them.”

Peter Frisch, executive director of The Granada, said he was unaware of the suit and had no comment.

Moscowitz said the next step in the process would be to wait for a response from the defendants and hopefully negotiate a settlement.


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