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City of Seattle

January 2, 1:00 PM click here to comment > 0

Fair contracting on City housing projects

Since 1981, Seattle voters have approved one bond and four levies to create affordable housing. Seattle has now funded over 11,000 affordable apartments for seniors, low- and moderate-wage workers, and formerly homeless individuals and families.

It’s a shared value in our city that people need shelter and affordable housing. And, it’s also a shared value in Seattle that workers deserve fair and humane treatment on the job and a chance to build a better life for themselves and their families. For this reason, the Office of Housing (OH) requires Fair Contracting, and living wages for construction jobs on projects it finances.

We take the stewardship of our levy dollars the very seriously. To assure compliance with our labor requirements, OH has a Wage and Compliance monitor whose job is seeing that our worksite standards are upheld.

Based on information obtained by the City’s monitor, OH Director Rick Hooper recently informed me that we’d uncovered allegations of inadequate payment of wages to drywall installers. Complaints first surfaced August and September on two projects currently under construction. This was followed by document verification in October. Since then, additional allegations have been made, and the investigation may be expanded to two additional OH financed projects.

These are very serious allegations. I have relayed my expectation to Mr. Hooper that OH aggressively pursue these investigations. That is now in progress.

The City is thoroughly reviewing the contractor’s books, verifying employee pay in accordance with their job classification and the City’s Residential Prevailing Wage requirements. OH is also working directly with the borrowers to enforce these provisions with their general contractors and subcontractors.

To date, the parties are cooperating and providing restitution to the employees we’re able to identify as having been underpaid.

Underpayment is often the result of simple mistakes, and our staff has a good track record of identifying cases and working with the contractors to get restitution for affected employees. However, what drives us to be so diligent in our work is that underpayment or non-payment can also amount to wage theft, which is a crime.

Wage theft happens in every industry, victimizing millions of workers. Unscrupulous employers steal from workers by underpaying, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, holding back paychecks, misclassifying employees, or not paying workers at all.

In addition to stealing from workers, wage theft hurts law-abiding employers, who can’t compete against companies that don’t pay their workers. Finally, we have provided the OH monitor’s files to the Seattle Police Department for review. If we find evidence of wage theft on these or other projects, we will not hesitate to refer cases to the City Attorney’s office to have the offenses prosecuted.

For more information on OH policies and procedures relating to construction, please go to: http://seattle.gov/housing/development/construction.htm

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Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn

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