In the News | 09/02/22

Illinois accuses Bridgeview construction company of stealing wages from union carpenters

Drive Construction allegedly funneled payments to carpenters through sham subcontractors to pay less than what the state’s overtime and prevailing wage laws require

A Bridgeview-based construction company is accused of wage theft and using an elaborate scheme to underpay dozens of union carpenters, according to a lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office.

Between 2015 and 2020, Drive Construction Inc. obtained contracts for public works projects in the Chicago area, such as schools and public housing apartments, worth nearly $40 million, according to the lawsuit. The contracts required Drive to pay its carpenters, who are represented by the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, Illinois-mandated prevailing wages.

But Drive funneled payments to carpenters through sham subcontractorsto pay the carpenters less than what the state’s overtime and prevailing wage laws require and to dodge the cost of other legally required benefits and protections, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.

“Drive passed money through two layers of sham subcontractors before using its construction foremen to distribute those payments to workers on Drive’s projects as a flat, per-week payment,” the suit alleges. “This multitiered funneling of wage payments enabled Drive to make it look like the workers were not Drive’s employees — when, in fact and by law, they were.”

Payments were typically made in cash or by money order to avoid traceability and did not reflect the overtime and prevailing wage rates that they should have, according to the suit.

“In other words, Drive short-changed its workers and unlawfully undercut its law-abiding competitors,” the suit states.

Messages left with Drive seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Drive Construction specializes in carpentry, plumbing and masonry.

At a news conference downtown Friday morning, Raoul said the scheme stole wages from dozens of workers. The lawsuit seeks back pay for workers, penalties against Drive and its agents, and disgorgement of Drive’s resulting profits.

Information provided by the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council was a key element in getting the investigation off the ground, Raoul said.

“The Carpenters Union aggressively pursues wage-theft cases because they hurt working families,” said Gary Perinar, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, which includes 52,000 workers in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.

The union has a collective bargaining agreement with Drive that was effectively “thrown out the window,” Perinar said.

“Hopefully after today it will send a message in the industry that we don’t toleratecheating contractors,” he said.

“All you need to do is just pay the people. Pay them theirmoney,” said Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents 300 unions, including the Carpenters Union, and about 500,000 workers.

“This is America and hard work is supposed to be rewarded by paying someone a fair day’swage for a fair day’s work,” Reiter said.

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