In Southeast Louisiana, the construction industry comprises a diverse workforce with many workers of color employed in various trades, including drywall, carpentry, painting, insulation, plumbing and electrical.
Unfortunately, misclassification of employees as independent contractors is a major issue in this area: In Louisiana, an estimated 13,000 workers have been misclassified as independent contractors. Misclassification harms workers by denying them legally owed wages and benefits such as health insurance, paid time off and workers’ compensation. Misclassification also creates an un-level playing field for law-abiding employers.
Addressing this issue requires collaboration, strategic problem solving and determination from stakeholders who are committed to worker protections, equity and fair competition. For example, our Wage and Hour Division New Orleans District Office has benefited from a productive relationship for about a decade with the Southeast Louisiana Building and Construction Trades Council, an organization that represents construction workers in Louisiana, to coordinate training, present outreach to stakeholders and share information.
Because of its insight and direct access to workers, the Southeast Louisiana Building Trades Council is a key partner in our efforts. Its members have been instrumental in encouraging contractors to participate in our compliance assistance activities and ensuring that workers are aware of their rights. “Companies that play fair can’t compete with companies that cheat,” shared Chip Fleetwood of the International Painters and Allied Trades International Union District Council 80, an organization that is part of the council. “We just want everyone to play by the same rules.”
Additionally, we have a memoranda of understanding with the Internal Revenue Service and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, so we’re able to refer misclassification cases for further investigation.
Between fiscal year 2017 and 2021, the Wage and Hour Division completed 28 investigations related to misclassification in Louisiana, resulting in over $1 million in back wages recovered for more than 850 employees.
Our message to the construction industry is clear: Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor will continue to protect the rights of our nation’s workforce and vigorously enforce the law.
Learn more about employee misclassification here. Anyone with questions about workers’ rights can email us or call 866-4US-WAGE to speak confidentially with a trained professional. We are able to communicate with callers in more than 200 languages.
Troy Mouton is the director of the New Orleans District Office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.