Some North Dakota construction companies are paying workers under the table and skipping benefits to avoid paying taxes, local union advocates and University of California, Berkeley Labor Center data analysis say. which reveals that the construction industry may no longer be able to provide workers with “family-supporting jobs”.
Isaac Prieto said he came to North Dakota for higher wages, but eventually discovered that his drywall employer was deliberately denying him benefits and even demanding more compensation than he was receiving in order to making illegal payments to other workers.
“I was working 70, 80 hours a week,” he said. “I never get paid for overtime. And there’s a lot of people who don’t have papers. Every year I was getting about $4,000 or $5,000 extra on my salary that I didn’t make. I guess they thought I wasn’t going to do my taxes.”
Even if workers receive their full wages and benefits, the report says, their compensation may not be enough. He suggested that low construction wages force more than a third of American workers to participate in public assistance programs, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $28 billion a year.
Adam Duininck, director of government affairs for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, a union that helps workers negotiate with companies and state lawmakers, said holding companies accountable helps more than just construction workers.
“Tax evasion in the construction sector affects everyone,” he said. “You have this labor that is not paid. There are social charges [that] are not paid on them, unemployment insurance, health care that they can use. It ends up costing us as taxpayers. We have to foot the bill.”
The council represents nearly 27,000 union members and their families in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The industry was known for allowing workers without a college education to find well-paying jobs. Prieto said he joined the union to prepare for the future.
“I want to retire one day, get my full 401(k),” he said. “I don’t want to owe the government money. I want to know that everything is legal, that everything is taken care of. I don’t want to become an old man, and then you know, I haven’t put in a lot of money. money in my retirement.”
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