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WA Cracks Down on Construction Cheats

May 14, 2007


Construction companies in Washington may be paying one-third or more of their workers under the table, and this month, a special legislative panel begins investigating the problem. Union representatives say the "underground economy" is unfair to contractors who play by the rules and get outbid for jobs, and it's cheating the state out of revenue that employers are required to pay. But most importantly, says John Littel of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, an unreported payroll means workers are going without basic benefits.

“These workers don't enjoy the types of conditions that most workers in the industry enjoy - protections like Workers Comp and unemployment insurance when they are laid off because they're being paid under the table.”

Littel adds that labor groups are in favor of the probe because no one really knows how much money is changing hands in under-the-table transactions.

“We think there could be as much as 20 to 30 percent of the industry with unreported payroll.”

Four state agencies regulate different portions of the construction trades, and the newly-created panel will analyze ways they can work more closely together to catch cheating contractors. The task force is made up of lawmakers and construction workers. Results will be presented to next year's Legislature.

The "Joint Legislative Task Force on the Underground Economy in the Washington State Construction Industry" is the result of Senate Bill 5926, which was signed into law on May 2.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA