By Don McIntosh
In the fight against wage theft, the volunteer cavalry has begun to arrive. On Jan. 21, the Multnomah County Commission heard a first report back about a pilot program in which union and community volunteers help County officials police construction work sites to make sure public works contractors are obeying labor laws, such as paying prevailing wage and overtime, not exceeding the mandated apprentice-to-journeyman ratio, and not misclassifying construction workers into lower-paid job classifications.
There are 13 volunteers so far, mostly business representatives from local building trades unions. They get County training, and access to a new software program known as LCPtracker, which contractors on County projects use to submit certified payroll records. The program automatically flags problem data, which greatly speeds enforcement of prevailing wage and other wage and hour laws. Volunteers also get ID badges authorizing them to visit construction work sites, where they speak with workers about conditions—to make sure they match up with what their employers are reporting. Any violations are reported to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries for enforcement.
“Access to the workers is the biggest thing,” said Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 organizer Brian Noble. “They usually don’t know that the company could be stealing money from them. By talking to them, we can find out.”
The first batch of volunteers was trained last August. So far the program includes volunteers from the Sheet Metal, Painters, Carpenters, Operators, Ironworkers, Glaziers, and Bricklayers unions. The software launched Oct. 1. Site visits began later that month. The program is modeled on a similar program used by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“We’ve had a great start,” Noble said. “The program is working.”
County commissioners last May approved temporary funding for the pilot program. After hearing the Jan. 21 progress report, commissioners voiced support for making the program ongoing when County Chair Deb Kafoury submits her next proposed budget in April.
“Our goal is to make sure that all workers get the wages that they’ve earned and that they deserve,” Kafoury told union volunteers and county staff.
Commissioner Lori Stegman said she’d like to see the program go statewide.
“The term ‘wage theft’ doesn’t really cover it. This is exploitation,” added Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.