N.H. Dept. of Labor Investigates Unity School Site Workers

Unity — The state Department of Labor Commissioner James Craig said Tuesday they are continuing the investigation into the possibility that undocumented workers from Mexico were employed by a subcontractor at the construction site for the new Unity Elementary School. “We were up there Friday but I have not talked to the inspector and I am not sure if we will go back there again,” Craig said in a phone interview.

The two men were not working on the job Tuesday, according to Gordon Bristol, who is the school district’s representative on the $8.7 million project.

They were passengers in a car that was stopped in the town of Washington on July 3 and detained by police at the request of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Washington Police Chief Steve Marshall said Tuesday.

“It involved their immigration status,” Marshall said.

Marshall said the men, who are brothers living in Manchester, told him they were working for a painting subcontractor, House of Windsor, in Georges Mills, N.H. A call to owner Douglas Windsor Tuesday was not returned.

As for who is responsible for ensuring that all employees at a construction site have the necessary paperwork for all labor laws, Craig said that is a little unclear.

“Honestly, at this point, I don’t know,” Craig said. “We are still investigating it. Everyone is supposed to make sure the law is followed. I’m not sure it is a single person.”

Bristol said when he reviews contracts, one of his roles is to “insulate” his client, in this case the school district, from any liability or fines when these circumstances arise.

He said the school district is not responsible for checking to see if the contractor is following all labor laws.

“I want to protect the school district and the townspeople, taxpayers,” Bristol said.

Whether it is workers’ compensation or anything else, the contract between Trumbull-Nelson and the school district includes clauses that places these types of responsibilities on the contractor, Bristol said.

“We tell them they have to hire proper people and make sure insurances are in place. In this case, I think we did very well.”

SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin said that it may not be the school district’s responsibility, but the district is nevertheless concerned about the situation.

“We want to be sure everyone is following the guidelines,” McGoodwin said.

House of Windsor is also a subcontractor on the Stevens High School renovation project and while McGoodwin said he did not make any inquiries on that project he assumes contractors are double checking the status of employees given what happened in Unity.

If there is a violation, Craig said the penalties can vary based on the size of the responsible party and whether there have been past violations.

Ron Bauer, vice-president of Trumbull-Nelson of Hanover, said his company requires all subcontractors have certificates of assurance and other documentation.

“Where it can get bogged down is when there are second and third tier contractors,” Bauer said, though he pointed out that House of Windsor did not fall into that category. “You never know sometimes who will be working at that level and we can’t control that.”

Bauer said the Unity site has anywhere from 30 to 40 workers during the day and six to 12 contractors who oversee the workers.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.