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Workers will get $31k in back pay

Hotel project ignored wage law

A Woburn construction company will pay $31,000 in back wages after Massachusetts’ attorney general found that one of its subcontractors failed to pay the state-required minimum wage to laborers from a Philadelphia church who were hired to renovate the Boston Marriott Copley Place.

The company, Baystate Services Inc., agreed to pay the money to 37 men from Victory Outreach Church, an evangelical ministry that specializes in rehabilitating people struggling with substance abuse. The church often arranges for its members to perform labor as part of its recovery program.

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The men were hired by a subcontractor, Installations Plus, which arranged for them to come to Boston in November to remove and install furniture as part of the $4 million renovation of the Marriott hotel’s 1,100 rooms.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office determined the men were paid $4 an hour — half of the state’s minimum wage — during nearly three months of work at the Back Bay hotel.

“Employers are required to pay employees a fair wage for a day’s work,” Coakley said in a statement Wednesday. “We enforce these laws not only to protect workers, but to level the playing field for all businesses who play by the rules.”

The matter remains under investigation by a state task force on the underground economy, which is probing whether contractors also violated requirements to pay unemployment taxes and workers’ compensation insurance.

The Boston Marriott Copley Place is owned by Host Hotels & Resorts Inc., a publicly traded company that owns dozens of luxury hotels nationwide. The company hired Baystate to renovate the guest rooms, but it said it was unaware that men from Victory Outreach were being paid so little.

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“As soon as we learned of these concerns, we acted quickly and aggressively to gather information and to make it clear to all the parties involved that we will not tolerate violations of the law on any Host project,” the company said in a statement.

A lawyer for Baystate Services said yesterday that it regrets that Installations Plus did not pay its workers according to the law.

“Baystate never intended for that to happen, and the company has done what it thinks is the right thing to do for the workers and to preserve its relationship with the owner, Host Hotels,” said the lawyer, Tom Elkind.

Coakley’s office said Baystate cooperated with the investigation, which began in January when State Police raided the Marriott and found that the men were working for substandard wages.

Installations Plus is a furniture installer based in Southern California.

Coakley said Installations Plus contracted with Victory Outreach to provide workers to move furniture in and out of the hotel rooms. The company’s owner, George A. Herrera, did not return a phone call on Wednesday seeking comment.

Victory Outreach, also based in Southern California, operates hundreds of churches and substance abuse recovery homes in inner-city neighborhoods across the Unites States. It also has dozens of international branches in places like Venezuela, Ireland, and the Philippines.

Its mission is to convert and rehabilitate drug addicts and former gang members through a regimen of Bible study and work. The pastor of the Victory Outreach church in Philadephia, Joseph Bishop, said the Marriott job provided much-needed employment to church members.

“We’re just a church trying to help people,” Bishop said. “We don’t know anything about labor laws.”

The attorney general’s office said that Victory Outreach reported it received no compensation for arranging employment for its members and had insufficient funds to pay back wages.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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