State labor department halts work at Belleville High School (updated 10/14 with comments from superintendent)

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The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) has issued stop-work orders to contractor HESP Solar L.L.C., of Montvale, and subcontractor Patriot Iron Works, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, who were working on a project at Belleville High School.

Investigators from NJDOL’s Division of Wage and Hour and Contract Compliance delivered the stop-work notices Oct. 7 to the two contractors working at 100 Passaic Ave in Belleville. A site inspection led to Patriot Iron Works being cited for failure to register and failure to carry required workers compensation insurance, while HESP Solar was cited for hiring an unregistered subcontractor, the NJDOL said.

 “There’s been a surge of violations occurring at construction jobs at our schools,” Joseph Petrecca, assistant commissioner of the Division of Wage and Hour and Contract Compliance, said. “It is of utmost importance that schools and municipalities set the example by ensuring only those that have been vetted through the NJDOL’s public works contractor registration process are hired to work on taxpayer-funded projects.”

NJDOL maintains a record of registered public works contractors that should be consulted by every government agency or entity before hiring for a public works job. Doing so may help avoid unnecessary project delays and extra costs to businesses, schools, government entities and taxpayers. The current list contains more than 6,000 businesses, and is searchable by name, address, registration date and certificate number.

 In June, NJDOL, with its partners at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) and the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE), sent a letter reminding local governments and boards of education of their responsibilities under the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act, which requires the payment of minimum rates of pay to laborers, craftsmen, and apprentices employed on public works projects. Construction contractors performing public work must also participate in a USDOL Registered Apprenticeship program, ensuring that a portion of taxpayer dollars are investing in New Jersey’s future workforce.

In May 2019, Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed into law legislation giving NJDOL the power to immediately halt work at any public or private work site — both for construction and non-construction — when an initial investigation finds evidence an employer has violated state wage, benefit or tax laws.

An employer may appeal a stop-work order, in which case the NJDOL has seven days to schedule a hearing. The NJDOL continues to monitor locations where stop-work orders have been issued, and may assess civil penalties of up to $5,000 per day against an employer conducting business in violation of the order.

The stop-work order may be lifted if and when any remaining back wages and penalties have been paid and all related issues have been resolved.

Updated with information from Belleville Schools Superintendent Richard Tomko:

Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Tomko, superintendent of Belleville Schools, says he and the district did its due diligence when awarding the contract, but it was out of the district’s hands as to which subcontractors were used. In the interim, he and his administration continue to comply with all rules and regulations.

“The Department of Labor Stop Work order was not directed toward the district,” Tomko said. “Rather, the investigation and action relied on information with regard to a subcontracted vendor of a subcontractor who was working on the solar project at the high school. All vendors proposed on the approved bid specifications for that site were vetted by the board of education and administration, and they have all the required documentation necessary to have been awarded the contract.

“The responsibility for what is outlined in the work stoppage order lies solely with the contractor, and the department does not inform the district of any labor complaints or wrongdoings of this type. However, as soon as I was made aware of the current issue, our construction manager and business administrator made contact with our lead contractor at the high school, and we were assured that any and all concerns were rectified with the appropriate agencies.

“The administration, the Belleville Board of Education, and counsel are well aware of the requirements set forth by the Department of Labor for public construction projects, including recent bills signed by Governor Murphy and his administration. We always do our due diligence with regard to safety and compliance with each and every project. “

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