Union: Drywallers working in Douglas County Courthouse were misclassified, denied appropriate compensation

NOVEMBER 2016 via Omaha World Herald:

About 75 laborers and community advocates demonstrated outside the Douglas County Courthouse on Tuesday to demand enforcement of the Nebraska Employment Classification Act.

Their spokesman, union representative Steven Mulcahy, said drywallers on a courthouse renovation job had been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees.

That meant that the workers were denied overtime pay, and that their employers didn’t pay workers’ compensation or payroll taxes for them, said Mulcahy, of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.

“Our goal is to get some enforcement, because without that, it’s not going to stop,” Mulcahy said. Contractors on the $15 million courthouse renovation could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

They’re working for the Omaha Douglas Public Building Commission, which manages and maintains the courthouse and adjacent city/county office building. The commission comprises two Omaha City Council members, two Douglas County Board members and Ron Roskens.

Omaha City Council Member Aimee Melton and Douglas County Board Member Mike Boyle, both members of the commission, said Tuesday that they had not been informed of an allegation that workers were being misclassified.

“They should report that to the Nebraska Department of Labor,” Melton said. “That is what the Department of Labor is for, and they have the authority to investigate.”

She said the contracts with the commission require companies to comply with all federal, state and local laws and ordinances.

Asked whether the Nebraska Department of Labor is investigating the allegations raised by Mulcahy, a department spokeswoman said that “by law any complaints the Department of Labor receives are confidential.”

Grace Johnson said overtime complaints would be federal issues.

Misclassification has been most prevalent in the construction trades, such as drywall, framing and masonry workers, as well as among cleaning crews and truck drivers.

Firms can slice up to 30 percent of their labor costs by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. They can undercut other companies when bidding for jobs because they aren’t required to withhold and pay for workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, income taxes and Social Security on such employees.

The World-Herald revealed in 2003 how employers misclassified undocumented immigrants who helped build Omaha’s Qwest Center, now the CenturyLink Center.

The Nebraska Legislature passed the Employee Classification Act in 2010 to try to crack down on the misclassification of workers.

The Nebraska Department of Labor had announced in September that it is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Labor in an effort to protect workers from being misclassified as independent contractors.

The state agency said it had signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.