Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today sent a letter to the DC Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) requesting an investigation into ongoing labor practices involving three DC Water contractors and subcontractors, brought to her attention by D.C. ironworkers. The workers informed Norton that three companies -- Collins Reinforcing, Dominion Rebar and Lyn-Phill Construction -- working at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant have, as Norton wrote in her letter, "failed to pay prevailing wages and overtime, failed to provide safety training, and failed to provide drinking water to workers forced them to work in the rain, failed to pay workers for time spent waiting on site for rain to stop, and even subjected workers to unscrupulous profiteering and theft of materials." Some of these allegations have been documented and financial remedies have been awarded.
"DC Water has an obligation to investigate whether these companies may have won their contracts with low bids that were based on short-changing or cheating their workforce and the District of Columbia," Norton continued, in her letter.
Lyn-Phill Construction has come under particular scrutiny from the workers for several violations. Among the most serious alleged infractions, workers say that Lyn-Phill violated the District law that requires subcontractors to hire D.C. residents by misclassifying some Maryland and Virginia residents as D.C. residents, and even forcing these workers to obtain D.C. identification cards with fake addresses. Equally as serious, Dominion Rebar is cited as allegedly forcing workers to take materials from DC Water project sites to projects for other entities. Though the workers were aware that this was a violation of the rules, their fear of being fired caused them to proceed anyway. Norton applauded DC Water for intervening in a dispute between the workers and Collins Reinforcing, but noted that $50,000 in back wages are still owed to the workers as a result of the settlement. Norton said that that intervention shows the potential for DC Water action in response to other possible violations by Dominion Rebar and Lyn-Phill.
The full text of Norton's letter follows.
Dear General Manager Hawkins:
In a meeting with District of Columbia ironworkers, I was informed of ongoing labor issues involving DC Water contractors and subcontractors at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. DC Water has used Collins Reinforcing, Dominion Rebar, and Lyn-Phill Construction to complete rebar projects. I was shocked to learn that these companies have been hauled before the U.S. Department of Labor or National Labor Relations Board, and that serious violations of U.S. labor laws have been repeatedly found, and that violations of D.C. laws have been alleged against these companies by their workers. I hope that we can work together to ensure that federal and D.C. laws are vigorously observed and that the safety and fair treatment of workers employed by DC Water's contractors and subcontractors are assured.
According to workers on the DC Water projects, these three subcontractors have failed to pay prevailing wages and overtime, failed to provide safety training, and failed to provide drinking water to workers. The workers also allege that these subcontractors forced them to work in the rain, failed to pay workers for time spent waiting on site for the rain to stop, and even subjected workers to unscrupulous profiteering and theft of materials. Some of the above allegations have been documented and remedies were recovered only to be followed by new violations without remedies.
Many of the most recent complaints voiced by the ironworkers concern Lyn-Phill Construction, and I think you will agree that they demand investigating. Of particular concern, workers have alleged that Lyn-Phill has violated the District law requiring subcontractors to employ D.C. residents. Workers have reported that some workers are residents of Maryland and Virginia but that Lyn-Phill falsely misclassifies them as D.C. residents, even going so far as to force these workers to obtain D.C. identification cards with fake addresses.
Apparently, Lyn-Phill Construction has made Spanish speakers sign forms written in English, after being denied Spanish language materials, agreeing that they will serve as apprentices and receive reduced wages until they complete an apprenticeship program. Lyn-Phill has tried to enforce these agreements, but workers have informed us that these Spanish speaking workers have never actually been given an opportunity for apprenticeship training. Thus, they continue to be paid reduced wages.
There are also allegations that Lyn-Phill has altered wages without advance notice, drastically reducing wages from pay period to pay period with no explanation. In addition, rules require that for every apprentice there must be three journeymen, but workers indicated that Lyn-Phill consistently breaks the rule.
With regard to Dominion Rebar, workers have indicated that Dominion Rebar has forced workers to take materials from DC Water project sites to project sites for other entities. According to one employee for Dominion Rebar, "Sometimes we have to work on a project for the Navy and the owner of the company forces us to bring the steel that belongs to the General Contractor at DC Water, Ulliman Schutte." Even though employees knew that this is against the rules, they were so fearful of losing their jobs that they would take materials from the DC Water site anyway.
Some of the allegations against the companies have been documented and remedies were awarded by federal agencies. Yet there is evidence that they are repeat violators who continue to receive contracts from DC Water. DC Water has an obligation to investigate whether these companies may have won their contracts with low bids that were based on short-changing or cheating their workforce and the District of Columbia. Please respond as to your policy if companies are found to be serial violators of local or U.S. laws.
I applaud the actions DC Water took in intervening in the dispute between the workers and Collins Reinforcing. This resulted in the workers receiving $426,000 in back wages. These workers appear to still be owed $50,000 in additional back wages, and I hope DC Water is doing its due diligence in making sure these workers receive the additional back wages they are owed. That intervention of DC Water also shows the potential for DC Water action with regard to other possible violations by Dominion Rebar and Lyn-Phill Construction. Please send me a response within 30 days describing the actions you are taking in this matter. I would also be happy to meet with you in person to discuss this issue.