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February 14, 2000

Workers to get $95,000 in unpaid wages; employer penalized

TUMWATER - An Idaho employer must pay more than $95,000 in unpaid wages to 12 current and former employees in the Spokane area according to a settlement agreement announced today by the Department of Labor & Industries.

John Ficca, of Moscow, Idaho, owner of Art's Electric, Inc., also has been permanently prohibited from bidding on or performing work on future public works projects in Washington. Ficca also does business as Palouse Country Electric and U Cities Contracting.

The permanent "debarment" - the first of its kind in an L&I prevailing wage case - resulted from charges that Ficca failed to pay his employees the correct rate of prevailing wage for the work they performed on six different public works projects for Washington State University and for the City of Pullman from 1995 through 1997.

Under state law, employees must be paid the prevailing rate by contractors working on government projects. Using surveys to gather information, L&I establishes prevailing wages by county for each trade and occupation employed on public works projects. Public works contracts are awarded by state agencies, counties, municipalities and all political subdivisions of the state.

L&I also charged that Ficca failed to pay employees for overtime they had worked, and that he falsified certified payroll documents required for public works projects. L&I originally investigated Ficca's work on a project for Washington State University in 1995. That investigation revealed numerous wage underpayments, for which Ficca reimbursed his employees. L&I later received complaints that Ficca had required the reimbursed employees to "rebate" or transfer the wage payments back to him.

The $95,000 wage settlement includes the wage payments rebated by Ficca. Should Ficca again require his employees to "rebate" the wage amounts to be distributed under the current settlement, Ficca will be required to pay each employee twice the wage owed, plus a liquidated damage penalty of $10,000 per occurrence. If Ficca violates any provision of the agreement, by bidding on public works projects for example, he will face a $75,000 penalty.

"This sends a clear message to all contractors who wish to bid on public works projects: You had better comply with the Washington State prevailing wage laws if you're going to bid for public works jobs," said Jim Walton, industrial relations agent for L&I, who did the investigation.

"If contractors follow the rules and allow the prevailing wage law to do what it is intended to do, communities, contractors, workers and taxpayers all win," Walton said. "This means creating quality construction projects, giving construction workers a standard community wage and creating a level playing field for all contractors."

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