Nov 22, 2016
Fifty-three shuttle bus drivers formerly employed at DIA had reason to celebrate this Thanksgiving after Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, secured more than $550,000 in unpaid wages for them.
“When the DIA hotel and transit center were completed earlier this year, this matter was left unresolved. While in the beginning there may have been some confusion about whether prevailing wage applied to the drivers who shuttled construction workers from the parking lot to the job site, by the end all parties understood that these employees had not received the proper wage,” said Auditor O’Brien.
Prevailing wages are set by Denver’s Career Service Board with guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor. “Prevailing wage has been in place in Denver since the 1950s,” explained Jeffrey A. Garcia, Esq., Director of Contracts and Accountability for the Auditor’s Office. “Setting a standard wage for each job classification ensures that contractors compete on quality and efficiency, rather than on paying their workers less. Plus, it ensures that the government, as a large employer, doesn’t have a negative effect on regional wages.”
Two prevailing wage investigators who work for the Auditor’s Office, Valerie Ramirez and Rafael Gongon, spent weeks going through payroll records to determine the extent of the underpayment. “We work hard on all our cases,” said Investigator Ramirez, “but it’s especially gratifying to get back pay awards that can make a difference to the recipient. The total settlement in this case is the largest in the history of the Auditor’s Office.”
Robert Boston, who received a back pay check of almost $70,000 pre-tax, praised the Auditor O’Brien’s tenacity in obtaining the proper wage. “I’m very grateful for this blessing bestowed on me and my family,” he said. “I appreciate everyone who was part of it.”
Another recipient made whole for underpaid wages check, René Chavez Cano, said, “I am grateful to Auditor O’Brien and his staff for making sure justice was done.”
Because of this and other enforcement problems, the Auditor led an extensive process this year to revise the Prevailing Wage ordinance. The changes, which were approved unanimously by City Council this month, are expected to make the law work better for both employers and employees.
As they came to the Auditor’s Office to pick up their checks, recipients had emotions ranging from shock to joy.
Xochil Canche said, “We’re really happy that this got fixed and for all the work that Valerie Ramirez did.”
From Heather Renner, “I had no idea this was happening and I’m grateful that Auditor O’Brien looked into it and found we were underpaid.”
Wilfredo Vega, Jr.: “I didn’t know this was going on but I’m pleased at the result!”
Belhu Armidew: “I’m so happy. This is for my kids.”
Merhawi Ayele: “This check goes to my mother. I’m grateful to get this money.”
Jennifer Jones: “It was fun to watch the DIA hotel coming up from the ground. But this money is an extra blessing.”
Paul Duran: “I’m on the verge of bankruptcy, and this is exactly what I need to keep me out of it.”
Daniel Storti: “This is a nice shock.”
Troy Stewart: “Thank you for finding me.”
Ali Agena: “I didn’t expect this. I am surprised and grateful.”
Rafael Garcia: “I thank God that there are diligent people doing their jobs honestly so that those who rightfully deserve a certain wage for their effort get paid.”
Roe Ann Sternenberger: “Thank God. I have a shake shingle roof I have to replace or lose my insurance. This will go to replace my roof, and it’s a lot of stress off my back.”
Colorado Public Radio story, November 23, 2016
Denver Post, November 28, 2016
Recent prevailing wage ordinance changes, November 8, 2016