By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry found that more than 30 construction workers were underpaid by their employers by more than $38,000 for work on the Minnesota State University Student Union Ballroom renovation.
The general contractor, Ebert Construction, based in Corcoran, and four subcontractors voluntarily agreed to pay back wages to the employees, according to a report by the Fair Contracting Foundation of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Ebert Construction paid back wages of $3,402 to eight employees; Schweiss Distributing paid $1,336 to four employees; Pietsch Construction paid six employees back wages of $4,777; Andy’s Masonry paid one employee $2,733; and Superior Mechanical paid back wages of $26,248 to an unspecified number of employees.
Markus Ebert, part owner of Ebert Construction, said the company learned a “valuable lesson” regarding reading through the contract specifications in detail. Ebert said the company wanted to do the workers a favor by having them work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days so they could have three days a week back with their families.
Ebert said they didn’t realize that the two extra hours a day still needed to be treated and paid as overtime.
“I think there was just an oversight regarding the details of the thing,” he said. “But everything got cleared up ... and we made sure the guys got paid.”
Tammy Wilde of Fair Contracting Foundation said the issue was brought to the organization’s attention in January by a union representative in southern Minnesota. The foundation turned the information over to the Department of Labor, which investigated payroll information.
The foundation reported that contractors failed to pay prevailing wage rates for the Ballroom project, as well as overtime.
“We try to make certain the law is being followed,” Wilde said.
The Fair Contracting Foundation is a construction industry group that monitors prevailing wage compliance. (State law requires workers on state-funded construction projects be paid a “prevailing wage” rate set annually by the Department of Labor and Industry to ensure contractors don’t underpay workers in order to submit low bids on contracts.)
Dan Benson, MSU director of media relations, issued the following statement on behalf of the university:
“(MSU) expects all contractors to comply with the state of Minnesota’s prevailing wage law and adhere to the language within our contracts. (MSU) advertises these guidelines and clearly includes this information in all of its construction contracts.”