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SelectBuild workers sue for unpaid wages

Agroup of former employees of BMHC’s SelectBuild division have filed suit in U.S. District Court of Los Angeles, claiming that they were denied wages for overtime work, time spent waiting for supplies, travel time between job sites and other instances of “off the clock” work hours. Fourteen plaintiffs have been named so far in the case, which is seeking class action status.

BMHC said the lawsuit is “part of an ongoing union campaign to force the company to recognize it as the bargaining agent for employees.”

The complaint, filed on Sept. 22 by the Pasadena, Calif., law firm of Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, involves former BMHC employees in three states: California, Nevada and Arizona. All of them worked for SelectBuild, which performed framing, concrete, plumbing and other construction services for the San Francisco-based company. (SelectBuild is no longer a separate division at BMHC.) The allegations date back to 2004 when, according to the lawsuit, SelectBuild supervisors and managers demanded that employees sign time sheets that did not accurately reflect the hours they worked.

“Defendants’ unlawful conduct has been widespread, repeated and consistent,” the complaint states. “[BMHC] knew, or should have known, that their supervisory and management personnel permit or require [employees] to perform work…without compensation.”

The allegations are violations of state and federal labor laws. In some instances, plaintiffs worked for companies that were later acquired by SelectBuild/BMHC. These companies are also named as defendants.

In a prepared statement, BMHC said it complies fully with state and federal wage practices. “We value our employees and the work they do for our customers,” the company said. It described the lawsuit as being “without merit,” adding, “We intend to defend against it vigorously.”

The complaint asks for unpaid wages, including overtime pay, plus unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees. A jury trial has been requested.

The lawsuit was set to coincide with the release of a report entitled, “The Newest Victims of the Housing Crisis: The Unpaid Workers Who Built America’s Homes.” Written by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), the report outlines some of the same allegations as the lawsuit, only in greater detail. Some of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are featured in the report, where they describe the hours they worked and how they were allegedly short changed in their weekly paychecks.

LIUNA held press conference s in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas on Sept. 23, the day after the SelectBuild/BMHC lawsuit was filed, to publicize the report. Dawn Page, a LIUNA spokes woman, told Home Channel News that the union “is not directing or controlling” the lawsuit, but that many of the alleged wage violations came to light through union organizing efforts. LIUNA is also helping workers find legal counsel, she said, adding that several of the Latino workers needed English translators.

While “The Newest Victims of the Housing Crisis” focuses primarily on SelectBuild, the report also takes large U.S. home builders to task for demanding repeated price reductions from suppliers and subcontractors. “Often, after an initial round [of bids] , they return to bidders to demand further price concessions until it becomes nearly impossible for subcontractors to complete work without cutting wages, benefits, safety and other core labor related are as,” the report says. “[Home builders] must not turn a blind eye to these illegal practices.”

The Sept. 23 press conferences were not the first time BMHC has been targeted by LIUNA. On May 6, LIUNA protested outside the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Houston, as well as in front of SelectBuild offices in Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

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