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Jan
2016
4

$2.5M In Backpay Coming to Oregon Tradesmen for University’s Prevailing Wage Violations

SOU-2011

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A settlement has been reached between Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) which will result in the university paying a record $2.5 million for failing to correctly pay the prevailing wage to 325 workers.  On average, the workers will receive $7,700 before taxes for construction work they performed on a set of residence halls and a dining hall on the school’s Ashland campus.  The settlement is the largest in the agency’s 112-year history, surpassing a $2.4 million settlement between Daimler Trucks North America and six employees to settle civil rights claims that was paid in January.  

As per the agreement, the university sent an initial $1.5 million to the BOLI, which will be distributed to 179 workers.  Labor officials must now contact the additional 146 workers and get individual claims releases so that the bureau can distribute the additional $1.5 million in May.

In a statement following the announcement of the settlement, university spokesperson Ryan Brown said:

“Though SOU disagreed with BOLI’s conclusion that additional wages were owed on the project, due to the time and cost of litigating the dispute, the SOU administration concluded that it was in the best interest of all involved to mutually resolve the dispute. SOU is looking forward to moving on from the issue and continuing to serve our students and community.”

BOLI spokesperson Charlie Burr explained to Oregon Live that the agency led a separate investigation in 2013 when questions arose about the SOU project.  A series of 80 audits found that 44 contractors and subcontractors failed to properly pay the prevailing wage.  Investigators found that the university had administered the construction of the halls and dining room as a single project and had improperly divided it.  If it had been administered as a single project — as the law requires — it would have been subject to the prevailing wage.  The residence and dining halls are all immediately adjacent to each other. Work on all three began in 2012 and was completed in September of 2013.  

Praising the work of BOLI’s Prevailing Wage Unit, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said:

“This settlement is a result of an extensive, multi-year effort by our Prevailing Wage Rate Unit to ensure that these workers receive every dollar they’ve earned.  Our agency is committed to strong and fair enforcement so that employees on public projects are paid the full wages owed under Oregon law.”

Burr said that while the initial $1.5 million came from the university. he wasn’t sure if the total amount came from the school or if an arrangement had been worked out with contractors and subcontractors on the project.  Adroit Construction of Ashland was the general contractor on the project.  

Labor Commissioner Avakian noted that the entire ordeal could have been avoided had either the contractors or the university checked with his office before construction began:

“When we do an investigation we investigate both the government agency and the contractor to make sure the law is being followed.  There’s a responsibility of both the contractors and the government body to ensure that workers are being paid the amount of money that they’re due.

It’s unfortunate that that did not happen in this case, which is what led to the investigation and now the settlement.  But, that said, we’re very pleased that Southern Oregon has stepped up, is paying the money, and that workers are going to get everything that they and their families earned.”

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