County attorney celebrates Worker’s Day with recent victories

Friday, April 29, 2016

International Worker’s Day is Sunday, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has always been a strong supporter of working men and women and, in particular, has strongly enforced wage laws.

Sometimes that enforcement is through criminal charges. The most recent example is the successful prosecution of Laura Plzak, co-owner of Honda Electric, on 16 counts of failing to pay the prevailing wage to her employees. She will be sentenced on May 13.

“My mother and father taught me about the need to find balance in life,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “That balance is easier to obtain when you work a standard work week and are paid a decent wage. On this International Worker’s Day, let us be mindful of our efforts to enforce wage laws to ensure individuals are treated with dignity while they receive the fruits of their labor to do with as they please.”   

In another situation, the evidence and law required a resolution using the civil process as in the matter of Hunt’s Carpet Service, Inc. and its principals, Robert and Joni Hunt.According to the settlement agreement approved by the Hennepin County Board in September, Hunt’s Carpet Service was hired for work in both the county’s Juvenile Detention Center and the Adult Women’s Correctional Facility. Instead of paying the workers the prevailing wage, the investigation by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Prevailing Wage Enforcement staff, along with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and Fair Contracting Foundation of Minnesota, found that the workers were paid less than the prevailing wage rate required by the contract. In order to make the money look like it was prevailing wage, the certified payroll reports submitted by the Hunts showed that their employees were working 20 hours a week. In fact, their employees were working 40 hours a week.

While the Hunts and their company did not admit any wrongdoing, they agreed to have the county withhold payment to Hunt’s Carpet Service, as well as contribute additional money from their business account, totaling $48,000. That money was used to reimburse the workers for the money they should have received. In addition, the Hunts agreed to disbarment, meaning the company would not seek contracts with federal, state or local governments for five years.

“These workers learned that they are entitled to their rights under the law and their rights as human beings,” said Kem Tae Lynch, investigating attorney at Fair Contracting Foundation of Minnesota. “They were overjoyed with how the situation was resolved.”

Whether the criminal or civil process is used to enforce wage laws, the goal is the same: make sure workers receive all the money they earned.