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Contractor will pay thousands in back wages for Auburn activities center

For the Reporter

Eleven workers underpaid for their effort on an Auburn activity center will share nearly $43,000 in wages owed to them under a settlement between the state and the construction company involved.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), Attorney General's Office and RJL Construction LLC reached the agreement on May 8, prior to an administrative hearing. As part of the settlement, RJL is barred from working on future public works projects.

The Kent-based construction firm employed carpenters, iron workers, cement masons and power equipment operators who were wrongly paid at the rate of general laborers. It was concluded that the workers weren't paid for overtime or the correct "prevailing wage," the amount under state law the contractor is required to pay for specific work on a public project.

"Employers must follow the law and pay their workers the wages they have earned," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office handled the case for L&I. "The Attorney General's Office takes wage cases seriously. All employers must play by the rules."

"This is about workers on a public project getting what they're owed," said Elizabeth Smith, L&I assistant director for Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards. "State law ensures workers receive specific wage rates on public projects, such as Auburn's activity center, and in this case, that didn't happen."

The 11 workers named in the settlement will receive varying amounts depending on the total of unpaid wages, with one worker receiving more than $13,000.

The general contractor for the project, Christensen Inc., has agreed to pay the wages over the next 12 months. An L&I case filed in King County Superior Court will remain open until the settlement is paid. The city of Auburn has yet to formally accept the completed project.

The history of the case goes back years.

RJL worked on Auburn's activity center project beginning in 2010 until it was terminated by Christensen in January 2011.

In March 2011, L&I received a complaint from the workers on the project. Agency investigators collected evidence, finding that some employees didn't receive any pay for weeks. There were also delays in receiving information from RJL. Labor & Industries eventually filed a formal "Notice of Violation" in July 2013, which led to the scheduled administrative hearing and settlement.

This isn't the first time RJL has failed to pay prevailing wages on a public project. In June 2012, the firm received a violation notice for failing to pay more than $151,000 to 26 workers on the Moses Lake Civic Center project between July 2010 and February 2011. As part of a settlement agreement in that case, L&I recovered the owed wages.

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