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Minnesota group calls for tightening fair pair standards

Firms underpaid 78 workers almost $118,000 for several Moorhead college and university projects going back to 2011, state Department of Labor and Industry audit documents show, including such projects as the remodeling work done on Dahl Hall at Minnesota State University Moorhead. (DAVID SAMSON/THE FORUM)

MOORHEAD — Area firms underpaid 78 workers almost $118,000 for several Moorhead college and university projects going back to 2011, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry documents show.

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The violations of the state’s wage and overtime laws are a sign that higher standards should be required of contractors to ensure fair pay and competition, said the leader of the Fair Contracting Foundation.

One firm, FM Contracting of West Fargo, N.D., shelled out nearly $69,000 in back wages for failing to pay the prevailing Clay County wage for carpenters during its work on Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Dahl Hall, said Mike Wilde, executive director of the Fair Contracting Foundation.

FM Contracting’s errors were not the result of any shenanigans by the firm, Wilde said.

But the discovery sparked a wider investigation of state projects by the Department of Labor and Industry that found a number of violations of the state’s wage laws.

With $850 million or more in capital projects expected to be approved in this year’s state bonding bill, Wilde and Minnesota 2020 spokesman Joe Sheeran said labor groups and conscientious contractors want to ensure competition is fair and wages aren’t undermined.

“These are laws meant to strengthen or protect the local economy,” Wilde said. “If you’re transporting Bismarck or Fargo or Jamestown workers to work on a Moorhead job, you have to pay a Moorhead wage rate.”

The number of investigations by the Department of Labor and Industry rose sharply in recent years.

In 2010, 60 wage investigations collected $226,197 in pay and benefits for 75 workers, the department reported.

In 2011, 79 investigations collected $324,995 for 198 workers.

But in 2012, 195 investigations collected $877,986 in back pay and benefits for 382 workers.

“Wage violations in the construction industry are a problem,” Wilde said. “We’re happy about the increased enforcement, but we have a lot of concerns from Rochester to Moorhead to Duluth.”

The Department of Labor and Industry examined several state construction projects in Clay County from 2011 to 2013, uncovering wage discrepancies big and small.

In the case of FM Contracting, the audit found 19 employees were owed $68,795.53 in back pay because they weren’t paid the local wage for carpenters.

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