Workers charge Minnesota contractor with exploitation

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Eight Latino immigrant workers have filed what they hope will become a class action lawsuit to halt “strikingly exploitive” practices by a major Minnesota drywall contractor.

The workers filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis “on behalf of all Latino immigrants who allegedly have been forced to work under strikingly exploitive conditions in the drywall industry by a large construction company, Mulcahy, Inc., and its affiliates.”

While white, native-born employees of Mulcahy reportedly have worked 40 hours per week with meal periods and other breaks, plaintiffs and other Latino, immigrant employees typically have been forced to work approximately 72 hours per week with few or no breaks and no overtime pay for the overtime worked, the suit alleges.

In addition, Mulcahy allegedly has paid the plaintiffs and other Latino, immigrant employees in cash and at a fraction of the rate paid to white, native-born employees doing the same type of work. Mulcahy also has allegedly withheld health care and other benefits from Latino, immigrant employees that have been provided to white, native-born employees.

“These defendants have created a two-tiered system for employees based on race and national origin rather than on skill and experience,” said an attorney for the workers, Bill O’Brien of Miller O’Brien Cummins. “The employer’s conduct here is more reminiscent of the Jim Crow era and has no place in the 21st century.”

Seeking class action status
The workers who filed the case were employed on the Bridgewater and M-Flats condominium projects and the Hilton Hotel project in Bloomington, but they believe the problem is more widespread and that’s why they are seeking class action status.

“The plaintiff class on whose behalf these representatives are proceeding apparently spans all the scope of the companies’ work,” said Justin Cummins, an attorney for Miller O’Brien Cummins. “It’s not limited to these projects.

“There’s overwhelming evidence so far based on our investigation that the violations have occurred and the problem is systemic.”

Cummins said more than 100 workers could be included in the class action.
According to the company’s website, Mulcahy, founded in 1970, has worked on a number of high-profile projects such as the Mall of America and the Xcel Energy Center. The firm has bid to perform work on the new Minnesota Twins ballpark and the University of Minnesota Gophers football stadium.

Company issues denial
In a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the company denied the allegations and accused the workers of seeking publicity.

The workers filed the suit under the names “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” because they fear retaliation, Cummins said. On the worksites, they were represented by the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades and sought redress through their union.

“The union tried to address this with Mulcahy and Mulcahy wasn’t interested and responded with threats,” he said. So the workers have turned to the courts.

“The remedies you can pursue under the law in court are different and much broader than what can be pursued under a (union) grievance procedure,” Cummins said.

According to the suit, the injuries and damages include “deprivation of equal employment opportunities;” loss of pay, vacation time, sick leave, health care coverage and workers’ compensation benefits; and “garden variety” emotional distress, mental anguish, personal embarrassment and humiliation.

Next steps
Mulcahy, Inc., has 20 days to file an answer to the charges, then both sides probably will begin filing motions regarding particular pieces of the case, Cummins said.

The court will then be asked to decide whether the case can be certified as a class action.

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