Elaina Rollins ’16, News Editor
The Hartford Courant and the Hartford Business Journal published articles this past Thursday, April 25, reporting that the Connecticut Department of Labor has issued a stop work order for eight subcontractors working on the Crescent Street Housing Project. This work order applied five firms from Massachusetts, two firms from Maine, and one firm from New Hampshire. The site inspection took place on Wednesday, April 24, and the stop orders were publicized the next day. The stop work order was issued because the CT Department of Labor said the subcontractors could not provide records proving that they were paying into the worker’s compensation system.
Worker’s compensation is a form of social insurance that gives injured workers medical care, income, and survivor benefits (in the case of a fatality). When workers accept this kind of insurance, they relinquish their right to sue their employer for negligence under common law. This tradeoff is known as “the compensation bargain.”
In the United States, the most common industries that use workmans comp to deal with injuries are emergency responders and transportation industry workers. Workman’s comp is thus important for many construction workers who are worried about injury and lawsuits.
Another reason that the stop work order was issued is because the Division of Wage and Workplace Standards, a subdivision of the Connecticut Department of Labor, said that the eight companies did not have necessary paperwork that proved they are registered to do business in Connecticut. Mara Lee, a writer at the Hartford Courant, explained in her article that, “Because companies could not show they were paying into worker’s comp, officials suspect workers are wrongly being classified as independent contractors.” This is problematic because when someone is hired as an independent contractor, that company saves money on Social Security fees, unemployment insurance, and workman’s compensation.
If the Connecticut Department of Labor had declared that the workers were hired as individual contractors, the accused companies would have to pay $300 for every day they were working on the Crescent Street Houses.
To avoid these sorts of fees, some states have worked to privative workers compensation programs. West Virgin and Nevada have both successfully privatized their workmans comp programs. There are only four states that rely only on state-run programs for workers compensation: North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, and Wyoming.
The Hartford Courant quotes Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor Sharon Palmer saying that, “Unfortunately, when an employer fails to properly recognize workers as employees of their company, often they are trying to avoid providing certain protections, such as workers’ compensation.” The subcontractors included in the stop work order have been working quickly since Thursday to get back on the job.
Michael Wright, an employee from Astro Crane, confirmed that he is already back to work. Wright is the only Astro Crane employee working at Trinity on this project. He explained that his “workman’s comp was fine” – it was just not worded or presented in the way Connecticut legally requires it to be. Wright said that he is unsure of the status of the other companies working on Crescent Street, but he is sure that Astro Crane took care of the miscommunication.
One new company that is now working on the project is KBS Building Systems, a firm based in South Paris, ME. One construction employee from KBS who wishes to remain anonymous commented that his new team came to Trinity on the morning of Thurs., April 25 and had orientation early that day. He and his fellow workers began work by noon. KBS’s presence on site – only one day after the site inspection took place – shows that Trinity is very serious about completing the project on time.
Kirchoff Campus Properties, a private development firm, remains the leader for this project, with Consigli Construction serving as the general contractor. Kirchoff is based in New York and is responsible for the renovation of Trinity’s Long Walk. The firm has also done projects for Vassar College and Pace University. They are responsible for owning and financing the residential development.
Trinity’s Vice President for Finance and Operations and Treasurer Paul Mutone was unavailable for comment about the current status of all the companies affected by the stop work order.