A group of workers on the Viking Lakes apartment project in Eagan have accused at least two subcontractors of wage theft in what could be one of the largest cases of its kind in Minnesota, according to a carpenters trade union representing the workers.
Officials from the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters union said this week the case is being investigated by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
Officials from MV Ventures, the property development arm of the Minnesota Vikings, said in a statement they have not yet been contacted by the labor department and said unfair labor practices were not raised during the construction period in question.
“Should an investigation be initiated, we will fully support and cooperate, and if these claims are legitimate, the subcontractors in question — neither of which have been selected to work on the [next phase of the] residential project — will have breached their contracts with MV Ventures and should be held accountable,” the statement said.
Laborers hired for last year’s project by subcontractors Absolute Drywall in Burnsville/Lakeville and Property Maintenance and Construction (PMC), said they were owed a total of more than $100,000 for their work, as first reported by MInnesota Reformer. Workers were told to work six to seven days a week, sometimes for 13 hours a day, and never received overtime, they said Thursday during a news conference held by the carpenters union and the labor group Centro De Trabajadores Unido En La Lucha (CTUL).
Through an interpreter, former PMC worker Javier Mendez Velasco said he worked 65 to 90 hours a week and was ordered to work holidays and never received overtime. He also said the subcontractors ignored work injuries.
“We were abused,” he said.
Adam Duininck, the carpenters union government affairs director, said more than 25 workers came forward to share their stories, making this “what we believe is the largest case of wage theft that we have seen in the state’s history in the construction industry.”
The union’s attorney, Burt Johnson, said he never saw a case with this many workers on one project in his 26 years representing clients in the field. “They need to be believed,” he said.
The Department of Labor and Industry would not say if it has opened a case, but it said cases of wage theft and worker misclassification against Absolute Drywall led to citations or fines in 2010 and 2018.
Officials at Property Maintenance and Construction and Absolute Drywall owner Daniel Ortega could not be reached for comment.
But Absolute Drywall’s former accounting manager, Chad LeBaron, said he personally verified workers’ hours and immigration green cards and denied the allegations. He called the workers disgruntled and said the carpenters union was upset its members failed to win a contract to work on part of the project.
LeBaron said one Absolute Drywall employee was fired nearly a year ago after the company discovered he was demanding kickbacks from Latino laborers to keep their jobs and transportation.
Officials at the carpenters union said they met with MV Ventures to discuss wage theft problems at Viking Lakes and to request that the company use reputable subcontractors who don’t have a history of wage theft complaints.