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Fine proposed against Labor Ready

The state labor commissioner wants Labor Ready to pay $49,500 and to be barred from publicly financed contracts


Labor Ready lures temporary workers with the slogan "Work Today, Cash Today."

But Oregon labor regulators say the company has a history of underpaying workers, then making up the rest of the pay months later after regulators point out state labor law violations.

This week, Oregon Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts proposed imposing a $49,500 fine against the temporary work-force provider and barring it from working on any publicly financed contract for at least three years.

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries officials say the company, based in Tacoma, has repeatedly failed to pay prevailing wages due workers at publicly financed projects. It also has filed inaccurate payroll records and violated other state labor laws, bureau officials say.

The proposed penalties, which should become final in a few weeks, mark the third time in two years that Roberts has penalized Labor Ready for violating Oregon labor laws. They also come as the company battles a $734,000 fine from Washington state labor officials, who say the company misclassified workers to avoid paying workers' compensation premiums.

A spokeswoman for Labor Ready says the company plans to appeal Roberts' latest proposed action. She said any wage and labor law violations were unintentional.

"We've done hundreds of prevailing wage jobs in Oregon alone, and we've paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages, probably far beyond most contractors," said Stacey Burke, the company's director of communications. "There are bound to be inadvertent, unintentional mistakes."

Labor Ready is the nation's leading provider of temporary workers for the light industrial and small business markets. With reported revenues of $917 million last year, it has 752 dispatch offices in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Britain. It has about a dozen in the Portland area.

The company has 10 days to state its case against the latest proposed fine.

The penalties stem from allegations that the company's subsidiary, Labor Ready Northwest, failed to pay prevailing wages to six workers sent to a public works project in Hillsboro, and one worker dispatched to a construction project at Central High School in Independence. Both projects took place in 2000.

In one instance, officials say, Labor Ready paid $6.75 an hour to Aaron Wadsworth to work on a Saturday at Central High School when he should have been paid $43.83 an hour and classified as a carpenter working overtime. Wadsworth did not receive his full back pay until it was four months overdue, state officials said.

The company also failed for five months to comply with a state labor investigator's request for payroll records from a construction project at Beaver Acres Elementary School in Beaverton, state officials said. The investigator was trying to determine whether wage violations occurred at the project. She eventually concluded that none had, but state officials said the company violated a law requiring that it provide the labor bureau with timely information.

The latest alleged violations are similar to others previously identified by state regulators. In December, Roberts ordered Labor Ready Northwest to pay $34,000 for violating wage and labor laws and barred the company from doing work on public contracts for one year.

Roberts found the company underpaid eight workers, failed to post proper wages and filed inaccurate wage statements with the state while supplying workers to build a new public middle school in Bend. The company paid the $3,442 it owed the eight workers.

Labor Ready has since asked the Oregon Court of Appeals to overturn Roberts' order.

In a separate case, Roberts ordered the company in 2000 to pay the state $13,000 for failing to keep daily pay records and filing inaccurate payroll reports with the state while working at the state Columbia River Correctional Institute in Portland.

Labor Ready continues to appeal a $734,000 fine issued last year by the Washington Bureau of Labor and Industries. Officials said the company placed workers in the wrong risk classification, which helped the company save $498,000 in workers' compensation premiums in 1998. The company is appealing the fine, saying the state used incorrect accounting procedures.

Washington officials also announced plans to audit Labor Ready's workers' compensation practices for the years of 1999 and 2000, but an agency spokesman said those audits have not begun because the company has not provided the relevant records.

Source: The Oregonian, Business Section, April 27, 2002

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