Frustrated by the lack of response they’ve received from legislative Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, members of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council stood outside the state Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday calling for “jobs not lip service.”
Charles LeConche, business manager of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council, said he’s sent the administration and Democratic lawmakers information about “out-of-state contractors” who are bringing in workers and exploiting them.
“I’m trying to embarrass elected officials into listening to us,” LeConche said Tuesday.
“The problem is labor trafficking and it’s a problem in Connecticut that’s going unanswered and unaddressed,” LeConche said.
The unemployment rate among the 5,000 members LeConche represents is about 40 percent and “nobody does anything,” LeConche said. “Everybody likes to cut a ribbon, but they’re forgetting about the workers.”
The Malloy administration has poured millions of dollars into large construction projects to expand businesses in the state, but LeConche said he wants to see those construction jobs go to Connecticut workers and taxpayers. At the moment, he said, they are not.
The chairs of the legislature’s Labor Committee don’t disagree.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said the issue of making sure construction jobs go to Connecticut workers has been dealt with to some degree at the municipal level, but generally speaking the contract goes to the lowest bidder at the state level.
There’s no legislation this year that would give preference to local contractors who hire Connecticut workers. There’s a fear that it would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, but Osten said other states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York have figured out a way to do it.
“We’re still trying to figure out a way for contractors in Connecticut to get the job,” Osten said.
There was a report compiled by the Department of Administrative Services last year on the issue. At the time, the first big busway contract had been awarded to a Massachusetts company and it prompted a protest by LeConche and his members.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said that history tells us that there is a way to give preference to contractors willing to hire local labor because it was done with the Adriaen’s Landing project in Hartford. He said there’s a way to include hiring preferences within the request for proposal.
“Charles LeConche is right on this and the legislature should do the right thing,” he said. “Why don’t we do that? I don’t know.”
On Wednesday, the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee killed a bill that would make sure a fair wage is paid to workers hired by companies getting more than $500,000 in state assistance from the Department of Economic and Community Development or Connecticut Innovations. But the bill wouldn’t necessarily help construction workers. Rather, it would help food service, building maintenance, and property or equipment service workers.
Rep. Patricia Widlitz, co-chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said corporation and sales taxes are down and now is not the time to be putting another burden on businesses.
“We need to be careful about anything that increases costs,” Widlitz said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor has begun to crack down on some of the alleged labor trafficking issues described by LeConche.
The Department of Labor issued stop work orders to 27 firms working at construction sites in the Stamford area for misclassifying workers during the period of Jan. 9 to March 14.
Officials said the stop work orders were levied against companies that misclassified workers as independent contractors with the intent of avoiding their obligations under federal and state employment laws covering such matters as workers’ compensation, unemployment taxes, and payroll reporting.
Just last week, labor officials issued stop work orders to eight out-of-state contractors working on new dormitories at Trinity College in Hartford because they didn’t have proof of workers’ compensation insurance.
In the past 12 months the state agency has inspected 108 construction projects and reviewed the records of 299 contractors. Approximately 199 stop work orders have been issued during this time, with 92 identified as out-of-state contractors, according to officials.