Elaina Rollins ’16, News Editor
This past Thursday, April 25, the Connecticut Department of Labor issued a stop work order for eight subcontractors working on the Trinity College Crescent Street Housing Project due to insufficient workers’ compensation records. The stop work order applied to five firms from Massachusetts, two firms from Maine, and one from New Hampshire. The inspection of the Crescent construction site took place on Wednesday, April 24, one day before firms were notified to halt their current project.
Workers’ compensation is a form of social insurance that gives injured workers medical care, income, and survivor benefits. 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 workers’ compensation to deal with injuries are emergency responders and transportation industry workers. Workers’ compensation is thus important for many construction workers who are worried about injury and lawsuits.
The stop work order was also issued because the Division of Wage and Workplace Standards, a subdivision of the Connecticut Department of Labor, claimed that the eight companies did not have appropriate paperwork proving that they are registered to do business in Connecticut. Mara Lee, a writer at The Hartford Courant, noted in her story on the issue that, “Because companies could not show they were paying into worker’s comp, officials suspect workers are wrongly being classified as independent contractors.” This type of improper classification poses problems, because when a company is hired as an independent contractor, that firm saves money on Social Security fees, unemployment insurance, and workers’ 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 Virginia and Nevada have both successfully privatized their workers’ compensation 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 Crescent Street stop work order have been working quickly since Thursday to get back on the job.
Michael Wright, an employee from Astro Crane who is working on the Crescent Houses, confirmed that he is already back on the job. Wright is the only Astro Crane employee working at Trinity on this project. He explained that his “workers’ comp was fine” – it was just not worded or presented in the way Connecticut legally requires. Wright said that he is unsure of the status of the other companies working on Crescent Street, but he is positive 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 Thursday, April 25, and had orientation early that day. He and his fellow workers began work by noon. KBS’s presence on the Crescent site – beginning 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 Housing project, with Consigli Construction serving as the general contractor. Kirchoff is a company 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.
Trinity’s Vice President for Finance and Operations and Treasurer Paul Mutone was unavailable for comment about the current status of the companies affected by the stop work order.