In a first-of-its-kind case, three construction workers have filed a public interest lawsuit against an Owatonna electrical contractor for allegedly not paying prevailing wage on state-financed construction projects.
The suit, filed in Minnesota State Court in Blue Earth County, seeks to enforce a law that protects the quality and safety of public construction projects by requiring contractors to pay the prevailing rate of wages and benefits to employees.
The lawsuit against Cole’s Electric, Inc. of Owatonna, Minn. is the first ever in the state and one of the first in the nation, said Brendan Cummins, an attorney with Miller-O’Brien-Cummins who is representing the workers. The Minnesota Legislature made the suit possible when it amended the 34-year-old prevailing wage law in 2007 to include a private attorney general provision. In so doing, Minnesota lawmakers empowered workers to sue companies that compromise the public trust by not paying prevailing wages on state-financed projects.
Cummins said Cole’s Electric has previously been sanctioned by the state for failing to pay its employees what the law requires.
“Cole’s Electric’s flagrant disregard for the law and the public interest is only one example of a much larger problem,” said Cummins. “The workers’ lawsuit is an important step toward restoring the public trust, protecting public safety, and ensuring high quality work on public projects.”
The public-interest lawsuit (Kyle Krienke, Cory Martinson, and Jeremiah Johnson v. Cole’s Electric, Inc.), seeks to compel Cole’s Electric to comply fully with the law, to pay double the wages withheld from the workers, and to pay the workers’ attorney’s fees and litigation costs incurred in the case.
For more on the prevailing wage, its history and benefit to workers, see the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades website, www.minnesotabuildingtrades.org