By Dave Altimari, Hartford Courant
The state Department of Labor has ordered two sub-contractors helping to build UConn’s $32 million basketball practice facility off the job, alleging they used undocumented workers and paid them in cash to avoid taxes.
State investigators made a surprise visit to the construction site on the Storrs campus on Sunday and interviewed more than 40 workers from Intex Building Systems Inc. of Glastonbury and J & V Construction LLC of East Hartford, authorities said.
Gary Pechie, the labor department’s Director of Wage and Workplace Standards, said investigators found that many of the workers were undocumented, being paid in cash to avoid state taxes, insurance costs and workmen’s compensation, and were being paid less than the law allows.
The labor department does not have jurisdiction over undocumented workers but has referred the incident to federal officials, said Pechie.
“It certainly is very troubling that (undocumented workers) would be working on a project at our flagship university,” Pechie said.
In a statement, UConn officials said neither the school “nor its general contractor were aware of the violations alleged by the Department of Labor, nor would we condone any such work practices.”
“The two “stop work” orders pertain to those two entities, and all others on site are continuing to work. The job site is not shut down, and the removal of those two entities is not expected to affect the schedule or budget,” the statement said.
The general contractor is Enfield Builders. Officials from Intex and J&V did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.
“Intex notified us that they are working with the Department of Labor and that the stop work order is going to be lifted,” Enfield Builders lawyer Frederick Hedberg said. “The job is moving forward uninterrupted and Enfield Builders is prepared to supplement that labor if necessary.”
Labor Department Field Supervisor Resa Spaziani said investigators issued the stop work orders against the two companies on Sunday following an unannounced inspection at the site.
Spaziani said more than 40 workers were interviewed, although some ran off the job site, and it was quickly determined that they were being underpaid and in cash since starting on the job last August 21.
The stop work order prohibits just those two companies from working on the site. They were doing carpentry and framing work for the 75,000 square-foot building, Spaziani said. The department did not shut down the entire project.
Spaziani said the investigation, which is in its infancy, has uncovered more than $50,000 in unpaid taxable income. Spaziani said a third company that was working at the site Sunday had no violations.
“I imagine this case will go well beyond $100,000 before the investigation is over,” Spaziani said. “It appears these companies have been operating like this for quite awhile.”
Labor officials said that while the general contractor is responsible for monitoring subcontractors, it is not liable for any of the penalties.
The labor department can issue civil penalties ordering the companies to repay back taxes to the state and also to pay back wages to the employees that they were paying under a legal wage.
Spaziani said the investigation is on-going.
The basketball practice facility is scheduled to be completed by May. The two-story building is being funded by the University of Connecticut Foundation which raised more than $24 million in private donations.