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EST Jason Engels Speaks on Wage Theft in Disaster Relief Cleanup.

The DOLís Wage & Hour division kicked off Disaster Preparedness Month by coordinating representatives from various agencies: DOL, FEMA, OSHA, SBA & CSCRC. With over 100 people in attendance, the discussion centered around disaster clean-up and how to avoid common pitfalls that can violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, such as wage theft. EST Engels spoke about how wage theft affects worker safety, proper training, and project effectiveness.

EST Engels explained how worker safety can be significantly affected when contractors bidding on highly competitive projects drive down costs through underbidding labor expenses. Despite work being abundant, the ever constant need to provide the lowest bid has resulted in a trend of slashing labor costs. This cost savings has resulted in a lack of attention to making sure proper safety requirements are met, such as gear and training.

EST Engels goes on to explain how training standards are affected because workers are not given time to properly complete safety training classes and maintain certifications. In many cases, workers are given the bare minimum for hazardous waste training. This training consists of a 4-hour course and shown a respirator, then sent out onto the field. CSCRC partners with CPWR to perform 40-hour hazardous waste worker training which includes tests for respirators, hands-on training dressed in hazmat suits with supplied air and practice with decontamination.

Not only does wage theft affect safety and training, but overall project effectiveness when workers are not treated fairly.† One of the most common ways workers are cheated is by being misclassified as independent contractors and not receiving benefits or the legally mandated time and a half overtime premium for hours worked in excess of 40 per week.

Then EST Engels was asked to share tips on how both employees and employers can avoid these pitfalls. His response urged additional education including bi-lingual materials, supporting honest contractors, and contacting officials when you encounter scrupulous contractors.