In Washington, 328 workers who helped cast concrete bridge pieces for the acclaimed Sound Transit elevated light-rail line have been awarded $3.7 million in back pay. The workers were employed by Bethlehem Construction between 2005-2007 but were not paid the proper prevailing wage.
Throughout the existence of Sound Transit, board members have stressed that the rail program would provide good paying jobs in the construction industry. The project has been touted by both the city and labor unions as a triumph, and rightfully so. The workers in question were paid $11 an hour by Bethlehem, more than the $8.61 originally prescribed by the department of Labor and Industries when the jobs were originally classified as “fabricated precast concrete products” based on the premise that these were generic parts requiring less skill than that of a carpenter in the field. Bethlehem, which finished the project on time and received industry honors upon its completion, paid slightly more than the prevailing wage mandated:
The company paid a few dollars more an hour than the state’s listed wage — “providing many good family jobs for Cashmere and Wenatchee-area Bethlehem personnel over the two and a half plus years that the project took place,” said a statement from Bob Connelly, a precast-products executive.
However, it eventually came to light that the job title was inaccurate as much of the work was not prefabricated, according to the Seattle Times:
The Cashmere segments contained steel rebar — fabricated into multiple shapes and sizes, with carefully measured ducts to allow on-site fastening.
At Local 86′s request, L&I ruled in January 2007 the segments were essentially custom-made pieces demanding high skill, and workers should be paid at construction-worker rates.
“There’s always pressure, on any job site, to pay less rather than more,” said Martin Garfinkel of Seattle, an attorney for the suing workers. Neither Sound Transit nor the union was a party to the lawsuit.
While the state acknowledged Bethlehem “had relied on a statement from an L&I employee” regarding the wages, in the end “it all comes down to fairness and following the rule of law — the same pay for all workers and contractors, even if the contractor had been reasonable in first relying on an employee statement,” said Ann Selover, state prevailing-wage program manager.
As a result of the lawsuit, future work done on Sound Transit, including a new two-mile stretch, will require higher labor rates. L&I tables show carpenters making $29 to $50 an hour, depending on experience, if the pieces are made in King County.