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Former employees sue construction co. over wages

Eleven former employees are suing Brookfield-based Arctic Landscape & Design LLC, claiming the company underpaid for work on at least four state road projects and illegally avoided paying overtime.

Bill Parsons, the attorney representing the group, said each plaintiff worked on one or more of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects during the past two years. Those workers, he said, were supposed to be paid prevailing wages on the jobs.

The projects took place on Loomis Road in Milwaukee, Highway 165 in Kenosha, Packers Avenue in Madison and Silver Spring Drive in Waukesha, according to the complaint filed in federal court Oct. 26 against Arctic Landscape.

A woman in Arctic’s Brookfield building said at 11:30 a.m. Friday that no one from the company was in the building and that no one was expected in Friday. Arnold Kellenberger, the company’s registered agent, did not return repeated telephone calls.

Prevailing wages are based on annual contractor survey results that show what workers are paid on private projects. The state uses the results to set a prevailing wage in each county for a particular type of job.

The goal is to prevent contractors from slashing wages in order to submit low bids, Parsons said.

Contractors are supposed to prove they’ve paid those wages, he said, adding that he believes Arctic Landscape submitted documentation to WisDOT. Parsons could not verify what that documentation was, and his claim could not be verified with WisDOT by deadline Friday.

The court complaint does not specify how much the plaintiffs claim to be owed. Parsons said that figure hasn’t been determined and will need to be calculated paycheck by paycheck.

“We’re talking about a significant difference,” he said. “With a group of this size, those damages can add up quickly.”

None of the 11 plaintiffs now works for Arctic Landscape, he said.

Tim Mindiola Jr. of Waukesha, said he worked on the Silver Spring Drive project. He said he was on an Arctic Landscape crew subcontracting for Badger Lighting & Signs Inc., Brookfield, and didn’t know WisDOT had set a prevailing wage rate for the project.

The project lasted at least a couple of months, Mindiola said, and he was only paid his regular $10 an hour until about halfway through, when he was given a slight raise. But, he said, he thinks he should have been earning $42 an hour.

Based on the number of hours he worked, Mindiola said, he estimated he could be owed at least $12,000.

That rate couldn’t be immediately confirmed with WisDOT on Friday.

Mindiola said he didn’t find out about the wage difference until someone from Badger Lighting mentioned it. He said he was so upset that he quit working for Arctic Landscape and applied at Badger Lighting, where he’s been working for about a year.

And he wasn’t the only one.

Rueben Ramos, of Pewaukee, whose name leads the list of plaintiffs, also now works for Badger Lighting. He said he wasn’t sure how much Arctic Landscape could owe him.

Mindiola said he intends to fight for what he’s owed even though he’s working for a different company.

“I was really mad because I’m struggling through life,” Mindiola said. “I’m 22. I have three kids. I could use it.”

Susie Beard, owner of Badger Lighting, declined to comment.

According to the complaint, Arctic Landscape also illegally avoided paying overtime to the same group of plaintiffs during the past three years. The complaint doesn’t specify on which projects overtime is believed to be owed.

When one of his clients worked more than 40 hours in a week, Parsons said, Arctic Landscape “banked” the extra hours and added them to paychecks in later weeks. By doing that, he said, Arctic avoided paying time-and-a-half for overtime work.

How much his clients might be owed in unpaid overtime isn’t yet clear, Parsons said.

But, he said, it is clear that wage complaints are becoming common in the industry.

“With the economy being as tight as it is,” Parsons said, “there’s an incentive for certain types of employers to cut corners to save some money.”

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