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Labor Department wins $2.4m wage settlement with Mass. construction firms

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A Lunenberg construction company and a related Framingham firm agreed to a $2.4 million settlement with the Department of Labor in a case involving unpaid overtime for 478 workers.

An investigation by the Labor Department's wage and hour division found that Force Corp. and AB Construction Group Inc., and principals Juliano Fernandes and Anderson Dos Santos, misclassified the bulk of their employees as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime wages and other benefits.

In addition, the companies allegedly used a combination of payroll checks and cash payments to employees, often avoiding paying overtime, and kept inadequate and inaccurate records.

"American workers go to their jobs each and every day and work hard to help their employers turn a profit," Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. "Workers who play by the rules deserve nothing less than to be paid what they are owed."

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Under the agreement, the defendants agreed to pay the $2.4 million in back wages as well as $262,900 in civil penalties, "due to the willful nature of their violations,'' the Labor Department said.

Force operates in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine, the government said. AB Construction was allegedly created to provide Force, a subcontractor for larger contractors, with much of its labor.

Force and its principals have repeatedly been the subject of wage and safety complaints. In a statement, the company said, "We take our commitment to our employees seriously and have cooperated fully with the DOL in its review, and are pleased to have resolved this issue in the best interest of our employees."

The company also said it was taking additional steps to improve its systems for tracking workers' hours.

"Most significantly, an outside party in conjunction with the DOL will conduct quarterly audits to assure compliance,'' the company said.

Force and related entities also separately have been sanctioned numerous times for safety violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.