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Quincy company ordered to pay $96K for allegedly underpaying workers

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 21, 2014 11:05 AM

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The state attorney general has ordered a Quincy company to pay more than $81,000 to its employees and $15,000 in fines for allegedly underpaying several workers.

According to a release on Attorney General Martha Coakley’s website, the investigation of Quincy company Boston Fire Protection Inc. has been ongoing since March 2013, when Sprinkler Fitters Local 550 brought the complaint to the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division.

“Our office works to achieve a level playing field for all businesses, contractors, and workers operating in the Commonwealth to ensure that all workers are paid what they are rightfully owed under the law,” Coakley said in the release.

An investigation revealed that the company paid eight employees less than the prevailing wage for several public construction jobs between 2010 and 2012, including Boston’s Curtis Hall Community Center, Excel Academy in Boston, the Conway Park Rink in Somerville, and Chelmsford Town Hall.

The company was also paying apprentice workers that weren’t registered with the Division of Apprentice Standards a lower apprentice rate, state officials said.

According to state officials, prevailing wage laws require that employees working on public works projects, except those who are strictly supervisory, be paid a minimum hourly rate.

Apprentices can be used, but only if the contractor pays apprentice rates, participates in an apprenticeship program, and has apprentices register with the state.

The company and its owner, Chris Cunningham, have been required to pay $81,000 in restitution to employees and $15,000 in penalties for failing to provide payroll records as requested in the investigation, state officials said.

Cunningham said he plans to file an appeal against the allegations.

In a phone interview, Cunningham said his accountant embezzled the money while underpaying his employees.

“There was money taken from the company. We thought we were paying the right wages,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the accountant forged his signature on payroll slips. The company has since gone bankrupt, Cunningham said.

Though the payroll was notarized, Cunningham said he never saw the payroll documents. As the payments were handled by the accountant through a separate company, Cunningham said he didn't have documents when the attorney general requested them.

Cunningham said he filed a lawsuit against his accountant but did not have enough money to pursue it.

He also said he had registered all apprentices on the public jobs. One unregistered apprentice hadn’t worked any public jobs. The other left before she could be registered.

According to Cunningham, the union allegations against him are payback for having left the union.

In addition to filing an appeal, Cunningham said he plans to bring up his own allegations against employees, including that one allegedly underpaid employee co-owned the company, and that several others were collecting unemployment.

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