By COLIN STAUB
Nearly four years after Sheet Metal Workers (SMART) Local 16 first complained to Washington Labor & Industries (L&I) about wage theft by Vancouver-based 360 Sheet Metal, L&I announced March 27 that it has ordered the company to pay $118,300 in fines. That sum is on top of the $201,200 in back wages that L&I earlier ordered 360 to pay.
“It sends a message that wage theft is a serious issue and that it’s being taken seriously,” said Scott Strickland, special projects counsel for Local 16.
The wage theft took place on four Vancouver public construction projects in 2019 and 2020. 360 Sheet Metal was subcontracted to provide custom ductwork for each project, and that work falls under Washington’s prevailing wage law.
Prevailing wage laws set pay rates for different kinds of work on public projects, ensuring good-paying jobs for workers and creating a level playing field for contractors (who aren’t incentivized to win bids by cutting wages).
In Washington, workers creating custom ductwork on public projects must be paid $62.52 per hour. But 360 Sheet Metal paid its workers far less—as little as $13.50 an hour on one project, according to L&I.
The company paid incorrect wages to at least 17 and as many as 26 workers on four projects: Martin Luther King Jr. Replacement School, ES 22 Elementary School, Ellsworth Elementary School, and Legacy High School/Transitions/49th Street Academy. In total, L&I found the company owed $201,200 in back wages and interest on these projects.
Local 16 began filing complaints about the wage theft in May 2019, when 360 was a non-union shop. In mid-2021, 360 Sheet Metal workers voted to join Local 16, kicking off a separate battle with management, which brought in a union busting firm and retaliated against workers.
L&I initiated enforcement against the company last summer, at the same time workers held their first unfair labor practice strike outside the Vancouver shop. L&I ordered 360 to pay the back wages, and when management ignored the request, L&I filed liens against each project. That threatened to withhold millions of dollars in “retainage” from the general contractor on each project, money that’s only paid at project completion. The move was effective: General contractors Triplett Wellman and Robinson Construction Co. paid the wages owed by 360 Sheet Metal on three projects in a matter of days or weeks. The general contractor on the fourth project, Petra Incorporated of Idaho, did not immediately pay 360’s bill, but L&I spokesman Matthew Erlich confirmed that the hiring contractor on that project, Caliber Plumbing and Mechanical Inc., paid the wages and interest owed in mid-March.
Strickland, the Local 16 attorney, said the 360 case should reinforce to public owners the importance of working with responsible contractors that pay workers the correct wage.
360 Sheet Metal appealed the citations, and the case will go before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
Local 16 made similar wage theft complaints about 360 Sheet Metal’s work on the Vancouver Fire Station, another public project requiring prevailing wage payment. That case is nearing the “notice of violation” stage, Erlich confirmed.