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Investigations Find Utah Construction Industry Rife with Labor Violations

US Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor has uncovered widespread violations of the rights of Utah’s construction workers. Investigations by the agency found employers owed these workers more than $1.8 million dollars in back wages.

From October 2013 to March 2015, federal investigators found that more than 2700 Utah construction workers did not get the wages they deserved. David Weil is the Wage and Hour Administrator for the US Labor Department.

“What we found were really wide scale violations of some of our most basic labor standards,” Weil says.  

Those violations varied, but many involved employers misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime, benefits and payroll taxes. One notable investigation led to consent judgments against 16 defendants operating collectively under different company names in Provo, American Fork, and Phoenix, Arizona. The employers claimed their workers were members of limited liability companies and not employees. The judgment led to the recovery of $700,000 in back wages and other guarantees for more than 1,000 construction industry workers.

Weil says this is a problem across the country, but part of the reason it’s significant in Utah is because the state is in the midst of a rapid, building expansion. And while all workers are protected under the law regardless of their status, Weil thinks many are still scared to report abuses.   

“I think the decline of unions generally means that there are more workers who don’t feel they have those protections, and feel reluctant therefore to come forward,” Weil says. “Unfortunately, in some of the worst employers that we deal with, the employers reinforce that view; they do threaten workers, that if you step forward, I’m going to fire you, if you step forward, I’m going to report to the immigration authorities.”

That’s why Weil says the feds and local agencies are working together to raise awareness about workers’ rights and to make sure the labor laws are enforced.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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