California regulators are investigating a contractor based near Los Angeles whose workers were paid illegally low wages to renovate the Boston Marriott Copley Place.
Investigators from the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement want to review the finances and operations of Installations Plus, a furniture installer that has repeatedly used workers from an inner-city evangelical ministry, Victory Outreach Church, for hotel jobs in California and Massachusetts.
The company’s owner, George A. Herrera, has been ordered to submit payroll records, tax returns, and other documents dating back three years, according to a copy of the California order.
Herrera could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The California inquiry follows a Boston Globe story detailing Herrera’s company’s use of ministry members to renovate the Marriott Copley Place and several other hotels in Southern California. At the Marriott, workers from a Victory Outreach church in Philadelphia were paid $4 an hour, half the state’s minimum wage, to move furniture in the hotel for 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Victory Outreach, based in California, is an international church that operates recovery homes for people struggling with substance abuse, criminal histories, and other issues.The church has locations in major US cities, and also has branches in South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Victory Outreach administrators in California told the Globe that Herrera often did not pay its members for their work, but instead would make a donation to the church. In some instances, church officials said, Herrera failed to make the agreed-upon donation for work at several properties, including the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
The company’s use of church workers may run afoul of California labor laws.A 1988 opinion currently posted on a labor department website indicates that church members who perform tasks of a commercial nature, whether intending to volunteer their services or not, must be paid according to the state’s minimum wage law.
In an interview with the Globe last month, Herrera defended his use of church-supplied labor, saying he supports Victory Outreach’s mission to rehabilitate people struggling with substance abuse. He said he pays the church a lump sum, usually tens of thousands of dollars, to supply workers for hotel renovations, and he suggested it is the church’s responsibility to ensure the men are compensated fairly.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley found that Victory Outreach members working under Herrera’s firm at the Marriott Copley were owed $31,000 in back wages for their labor. Baystate Services Inc., the general contractor that managed the hotel’s renovation, volunteered to pay the money after Herrera refused, according to Baystate’s attorney, Tom Elkind. He said Baystate will try to recoup the $31,000 from Herrera.
Massachusetts investigators also found that a total of 15 subcontractors on the Marriott job violated state tax and labor laws. Together, they failed to report nearly $1.2 million in wages, and deprived the state of $86,000 in unemployment taxes.