A Bridgeview-based construction company is accused of wage theft and using an elaborate scheme to underpay dozens of unionized carpenters, according to a lawsuit filed by the office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
Between 2015 and 2020, Drive Construction Inc. won contracts for public works projects in the Chicago area, such as schools and public housing, worth nearly $40 million, according to the lawsuit. The contracts required Drive to pay its carpenters, who are represented by the Illinois-mandated Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, at prevailing wages.
But Drive funneled payments to carpenters through fictitious subcontractors to pay carpenters less than state overtime and prevailing wage laws require and to dodge the cost of other benefits and protections. legally required, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.
“Drive funneled money through two layers of fictitious subcontractors before using its construction foremen to distribute these payments to workers on Drive’s projects as a weekly lump sum payment,” the lawsuit alleges. “This tiered channeling of wage payments allowed Drive to make the workers appear not to be Drive employees – when in fact and by law they were.”
Payments were generally made in cash or by money order to avoid traceability and did not reflect the overtime hours and prevailing wage rates they should have, according to the suit.
“In other words, Drive wrongfully harmed its employees and unlawfully undermined its law-abiding competitors,” the suit states.
Messages left with Drive requesting feedback were not immediately returned.
Drive Construction specializes in carpentry, plumbing and masonry.
At a downtown press conference on Friday morning, Raoul said the scheme stole the wages of dozens of workers. The lawsuit seeks back wages for the workers, sanctions against Drive and its agents, and restitution of Drive’s resulting profits.
Information provided by the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council was key to getting the investigation started, Raoul said.
“The carpenters union aggressively pursues wage theft cases because they hurt working families,” said Gary Perinar, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, which includes 52,000 workers in Illinois. , Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.
The union has a collective agreement with Drive that was effectively “thrown out the window,” Perinar said.
“Hopefully after today it sends a message to the industry that we don’t tolerate cheating contractors,” he said.
“All you have to do is pay people. Pay them their money,” said Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents 300 unions, including the Carpenters Union, and about 500,000 workers.
“This is America and hard work is supposed to be rewarded by paying someone a fair wage for a fair day’s work,” Reiter said.