MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Contractors who haven't been paid may be part of the delays that have slowed down a Dinkytown apartment project, in turn leaving hundreds of University of Minnesota students without a place to stay.
Earlier this month, FOX 9 highlighted the plight of students who had made their rent payments but were left in the lurch. Now, at least six workers from the project claim they're owed thousands of dollars. They also say that's just one of the reasons for the delay in the project’s completion.
While workers were making final touches at Identity Dinkytown on Friday, six men who had previously worked on the drywall for the project shared their experiences on why the building hasn't been completed nearly a month past its scheduled opening date.
"We never received our complete pay," Edgar told us. He and his crew are undocumented immigrants who traveled from out of state, lured by a subcontractor's promise of a lot of work and good wages. However, upon their arrival, they realized they weren't the first crew on the job.
"When we came here, the drywall was already installed, so we started taping the drywall and finishing the drywall on different floors," Edgar explained.
He and his team worked long hours, often over 12 hours daily for six days a week, across several months. They were paid infrequently, always in cash, and received less than what they had earned. Luis, another member of the crew, described their dire situation, saying, "We go day by day. If I don’t get paid, we don’t have food."
As Edgar spoke with other crews, he heard similar stories of exploitation. They eventually walked off the job after seeing other teams abandon it and the money didn't come.
"And they left the work unfinished because they didn’t get paid. Then they brought another one, and another one, the same as us, and that’s why there was a big delay in the project," Edgar added.
The Minnesota Building and Trades Council president stated at a Senate committee hearing that many such workers are misclassified as independent contractors, not employees. So their employers cheat them by not paying overtime and cheat the government by pocketing what they should pay for Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.
Union leaders say the owners have a pattern of benefiting from unpaid labor. A new state law as of Aug. 1 makes general contractors liable for missed payments by subcontractors, but the Identity Dinkytown project started before the law took effect, so workers here will probably struggle to force the general contractor to pay them.
Contractors have filed millions of dollars worth of liens against CA Ventures for a just-finished project in California. A company spokesperson tells me they’ve fully paid the general contractor on the Identity Dinkytown project, so this seems to be a dispute at the subcontractor level.
One of the Identity Dinkytown teams has filed a lien against the subcontractor Drywall Enterprises for unpaid labor. The company is contesting the lien and says the workers have been paid in full. Edgar and his team worked for the same subcontractor. They said when they asked for payment in full, all they got was intimidation.
"We’ve been threatened, you know, that they’re going to kill us. Me and my co-workers, we are scared," Edgar expressed.
Luis says he once told the subcontractor he’d accept not getting paid if he could just leave with his life. But he and his team aren’t giving up.
They went to the carpenters union, and they’re in the process of filing a wage theft complaint. But they live in fear every day and not just for their lives.
"He knows that we are not legal in the country, and, you know, he always made those comments. We are very sensitive and vulnerable to maybe being deported," Edgar stated.
As for the project, Minneapolis city inspectors went through the building again Thursday, but they told us the contractor didn’t finish everything it needed to get a temporary occupancy permit.
They’ll get another chance Monday, four days before they’re telling students the top three floors will be open for move-in.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Catalyst Construction served as the primary contractor on the Identity Dinkytown project, which is owned by CA Student Living Dinkytown II, part of CA Ventures. The workers who spoke to FOX 9 say they were hired as subcontractors to one of Catalyst’s subcontractors, Drywall Enterprises. Another subcontrator, G&I Construction, filed a lien against Drywall Enterprises alleging non-payment. Three days before our story aired, we reached out to Drywall Enterprises to address the lien from G&I Construction and the additional workers’ allegations. They did not return our messages prior to the broadcast, but as we reported Drywall Enterprises has contested the lien and claimed all their subcontractors were paid in full. After our report aired, their lawyers reached out and categorically denied the additional workers’ claims of non-payment and threats.