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Colorado lawmakers announce wage theft bill to protect construction workers

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-05 19:23:49-05

DENVER – On Friday morning, three Colorado state representatives and the Western States Regional Council of Carpenters held a new conference to announce the creation of a 2024 bill to combat wage theft in the construction industry.

“According to the Federal Department of Labor, the construction industry has among the highest number of workers who experienced wage theft," said Monica Duran, House Majority leader and a sponsor of the bill. "More money per worker is stolen in the construction industry compared to most other industries. Experts estimate that in 2020, nearly $728 million. Think about that, $728 million in wages were stolen from Colorado workers. 11% of wage theft claims in Colorado came from the construction industry."

She quoted a 2022 Colorado Fiscal Institute report that read that Latino workers are the demographic most likely to experience wage theft.

"This group makes up 20% of Colorado workers, but 28% of the high wage theft category," she said.

Colorado lawmakers announce wage theft bill to protect construction workers

Duran said lawmakers are still working on the details of the bill, but the goal is to hold contractors and companies accountable.

“You hear stories like this of thousands of dollars that have not been paid in wages, — it's because there's no consequence. This will give some teeth to that and that's why this bill is so important,” Duran said.

Duran said the bill could implement penalties and fines for companies that commit wage theft.

“The construction industry in Colorado has become polluted with wage theft,” said Mark Thompson, a representative of the Western States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Wage theft comes in many forms. It may be failing to pay a worker the multiplier for overtime, failing to pay wages for all hours worked. It may be paying below minimum wage, or even not paying workers at all. Unfortunately, this has become an acceptable way to do business in the construction industry.”

Oscar Calderon, a contractor who spoke during the news conference, described his experience with wage theft working for a painting company.

“I worked from May to September in 2022 in the cities of Colorado Springs, Aurora, Silverthorne, Eaton, Golden and Denver here in the State of Colorado. We worked painting with a group of friends and relatives. At each job site, we were owed money — a total of about $68,000,” Calderon said.

Juan Amato said he was also a victim of wage theft.

“The Department of Labor later determined that he had to pay us our stolen wages,” Amato said. “We haven't received any payment.”

Jonathan Morales, a representative of the Western States Regional Council of Carpenters, said bad contractors target migrants.

"One of the main reasons is they threaten them that if they speak up, they're gonna call immigration on them," Morales said.

Morales said he has been a victim of wage theft twice and some contractors steal wages to bid low on projects and win jobs.

"If they don't pay the workers, or they don't pay them overtime, they're going to be able to get more jobs," Morales said.

Duran said lawmakers will continue to gather feedback over the next few weeks as they write the bill.

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