By ELIZABETH DONALD
An Illinois employer has been forced to pay back wages and fines for failing to pay required wages under the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act.
Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced March 2 that she would now release $870,629 in back bills owed to ShawneeLec Inc., a state contractor that failed to provide certified payrolls to the Department of Labor on more than $5 million in state contracts to install broadband in several locations. A worker with Laborers’ International Union in Springfield filed a complaint, and Mendoza froze ShawneeLec’s payments until they made up the $72,935 in underpaid wages and a fine of $14,587.
“The comptroller’s efforts should serve as a warning to contractors that prevailing wage requirements are the law of the land, and failure to follow the law has serious consequences,” said Sean Stott of the Laborers’ International Union.
Two of the employees had been underpaid by more than $20,000, and the repayment benefited union and nonunion workers alike.
“I take my role as Illinois chief fiscal and accountability officer very seriously,” Mendoza said. “And when a contractor receives state funds on a project and shortchanges the working men and women of Illinois by not paying them the prevailing wage, I will not hesitate to hold up those state funds to get the contractor to follow the law.”
Mendoza signed an executive order in 2019 putting contractors on notice that her office would monitor compliance with the Prevailing Wage Act and holding up state payments to contractors that violate it by underpaying workers.
Mendoza said if contractors thought her executive order was something they could ignore, they should reconsider. “This should put them on notice that I will vigilantly watch out for the rights of Illinois workers,” she said.
Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, thanked Mendoza for demonstrating how state government can partner in fighting wage theft. “I’m grateful the Comptroller’s Office and the Dept. of Labor serve as a one-two punch in protecting worker’s wages on public works projects. The AFL-CIO stood in support of the Comptroller’s Executive Order when she signed it in 2019 and will continue to support her role as a much-needed watchdog for worker’s wages.”
This isn’t the first time Mendoza has taken this action. In 2021, she froze more than half a million dollars owed a metro-east contractor for violating the Prevailing Wage Act until the contractor paid $70,628 in unpaid wages and fines. Mendoza’s hard line prevailing wages was part of her reelection campaign: as of August 2022, they had handled 130 inquiries with 43 actively under investigation, and she was at work creating a prevailing wage portal for easy checks to see if companies were properly submitting their payrolls.
At the time, Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, said it was the first time in a long time Illinois has had a comptroller “aggressively going after” companies that aren’t paying a prevailing wage.