The Seattle Office of Labor Standards said that two concrete companies operating at local construction sites allegedly violated multiple labor standards and owe $2,055,204 to 53 workers.
The companies implicated in the investigation are Baja Concrete, a Miami-based company, and Newway Forming, a Canadian concrete company with an office in Lynnwood. Last week, the OLS alleged that both companies did not pay workers minimum wage or compensate them for all the hours they worked between February 2018 and August 2020, let alone overtime premiums. The office also said the two companies did not provide adequate rest and paid sick days.
“There’s a lot going on in this case,” said OLS director Steven Marchese. “This is certainly one of the larger findings that we’ve had.”
The OLS’s full report said the two companies owe workers amounts that range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $200,000 in damages, back wages, and interest. In some instances, employees could have worked up to 19 hours without adequate rest or meal breaks.
Both companies submitted appeals to the determination, which means a hearing examiner for the city will review the evidence collected in the case.
Newway argues that it did not jointly employ any Baja employees and “should not be held liable for Baja’s actions.” Baja argues that its role was limited to managing payrolls and housing reimbursements for employees and that Newway was responsible for keeping time sheets for workers and providing them to Baja for processing.
Baja and Newway could not be reached for comment.
The case was referred to the OLS by Casa Latina, a nonprofit that is part of the OLS’s community outreach program to educate low-wage workers about their rights and protections.
“People aren’t aware of their rights” in cases like these because they may come from different countries with limited labor protections, said Nuno Pereira, worker rights coordinator at Casa Latina.
Pereira said a worker who reached out to him after the OLS released their determination felt “validation” knowing their difficult experience with the companies was part of a larger problem.
Most of the cited violations took place at 1120 Denny Way, where two mixed-use towers are being constructed in South Lake Union by Onni Contracting, a Canadian company that was dismissed from the case partway through the investigation. Onni subcontracted with Newway which was to complete concrete work, and Newway then subcontracted with Baja which was to help finishing the concrete.
Marchese said companies sometimes use subcontractors in construction to shield themselves from labor problems like these. Realizing this, the OLS charged both companies separately, choosing to identify the two as joint employers.
The OLS began its investigation in May 2020 and interviewed eight employees that worked at the construction sites in question. The office also interviewed two individuals who were supervisors at Newway during the time period under review. But the office was unsuccessful at securing an interview with any Baja representatives.
Marchese said the investigation was prolonged by “the lack of coordination, the lack of forthcoming information, [and] the lack of documentation” offered by both companies. He said that despite being subpoenaed, Baja did not provide the OLS with employee contact information, policy documents and various communications with employees.
The two companies did participate in settlement discussions, though these too were delayed because they involved “multiple parties who were not communicating with each other,” the OLS said in a statement. In the end, no agreement was reached.
“We know that if there’s one labor rights violation in a workplace, there are often more,” Danielle Alvarado, executive director of Working Washington & Fair Work Center wrote in an email.
Marchese said that construction sites for residential buildings are an important focus for the OLS because workers are often hired on these projects as independent contractors rather than employees. He said this can lead to workers who are less educated on labor laws ending up in these positions.
“A big issue that we have is where workers feel that if they do complain … the employer might do something to them [with] some kind of retaliation,” said Pereira. But this case shows, “the first step is reporting what’s going on.”