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Aug
2013
27

Providence Waste Service Workers Seek Up to a Decade Worth of Prevailing Wage Backpay

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In Providence, American Waste Services (AWS) employees thought they were making a decent wage, but when they realized they were owed prevailing wages — some for up to ten years — the context for their contentment changed.  Now, 20 workers, mostly immigrants from Colombia and Guatemala, are involved in a wage theft lawsuit with their former employers, Christopher Carney and Michael Galvin.

The two bosses sold American Waste Services in 2011, but with assistance from the workers group Fuerza Laboral (Power of Workers), their former employees are raising wage hell.  The lawsuit was met by a counter lawsuit from Carney and Galvin.  In June, the Providence Journal provided background on the case.

The lawsuits both allege that Carney and Galvin/AWS deliberately failed to pay prevailing wage rates under Massachusetts’ prevailing-wage law. That law applies to municipal contracts, which AWS held with the four towns.

According to the court documents, for example, the prevailing wage for garbage truck drivers was approximately $23 per hour, subject to periodic increases; the workers were never paid more than $18 per hour, some for as long as 10 years.

The suits also allege that AWS deliberately failed to pay overtime pay — at time-and-a-half — when workers exceeded 40 hours per week, and concealed the fact that they were required to do so.

Several drivers who complained they were never paid prevailing wage rates and received no overtime “were threatened with being fired if they informed other workers,” or were told that if they wanted more money, they should sue, the lawsuit states.

Worker efforts to turn up the heat have included marching outside Raynham Park, the former site of AWS, with oversized “Pay To The Order Of” checks.  With their former boss’ cell phone number on the checks, the workers marched along Route 138 and chanted through bullhorns.  The site is still used as the address of multiple businesses run by Carney and Galvin.  It is also home to George Carney Jr.’s simulcast betting parlor and former dog track.  The site is currently under consideration for a slots license.  George Carney Jr. is the father of Christopher Carney.

In a recent interview with the Providence Journal, Carney called the workers “cowards” and the lawsuit “frivolous.”  

Carney railed against the demonstration, and said the workers threatened to picket his house. “I’ve been served [subpoenas] 15 times,” he said, and the uniformed sheriffs “frightened my 7-year-old son.”

He added, “I don’t like getting sued for frivolous things like this. If I owe somebody something, I pay it. … Come see me. Whatever you’re owed, you’ll be paid. … I don’t take kindly to lawsuits.”

He also said, “To get anybody who’s decent help, you have to pay them 40 hours a week. They essentially worked only 28 to 32 hours. If you take the hourly wage, they were actually overpaid.”

Carney believes the case has drawn attention because his father owns Raynham Park, but he argues that his father’s pursuit of a slots license “has nothing to do with the rubbish story.”

Many of the workers involved in the case remained employed after AWS sold to Waste Management (a company familiar with labor drama).  When the new company took over, the workers were paid prevailing wages.  However, for years these men did a hard and sometimes dangerous job while not being properly compensated.  They say they have faith the wrong will be corrected.  

The countersuit from Carney and Galvin seeks to recoup payments made to compensate workers after the former owners found out that the state Attorney General’s office was investigating them.  Carney and Galvin now want that money back.  According to the Providence Journal,

They counter-sued to recover lump-sum payments ranging from $8,000 to $23,000 that Carney and Galvin paid some workers after the workers filed a claim to receive their prevailing wage.

Thomas Smith, staff attorney at Justice at Work, a legal services organization that partners with advocacy groups, and Segal Roitman, of Boston, co-represent the shakers. The drivers are represented by Philip J. Gordon of Gordon Law Group in Boston.

Smith said AWS “paid a sub-group of the larger group” after learning it was being investigated by the state attorney general’s office.

“They did not pay all the workers who are owed prevailing wages,” Smith said. “And the ones they did pay were not paid what they are entitled to.”

Contracts between the town of Wrentham and AWS show that the company was aware they were to pay the prevailing wage.

Contracts AWS held with Medway and Wrentham paid $544,200 and roughly $500,000, respectively, in fiscal 2012, according to public records.

They required AWS to pay prevailing wage, and keep and file records with the towns and the state.

“Thus American Waste was clearly required to comply with Massachusetts Law regarding prevailing wage and to file the required reports,” Wrentham Town Administrator Bill Ketcham wrote in an email to The Journal.

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