Unions accuse subcontractor of wage theft in Thief River Falls

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THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. (Valley News Live)- The world's fifth largest electronic distributor has headquarters in Thief River Falls. That's where Digi-Key is working on a $300-million expansion project. But workers say the subcontractor, Millennium Concrete, has been robbing workers of their fair pay.

We visited Thief River Falls, where union and non-union members demonstrated, to spotlight the issues.

Thief River Falls is home to Digi-Key, which is undergoing a large expansion project. That's where all Wednesday morning, union representatives stood under the hot sun with signs—sans the protest chants.

"No, I wouldn't call it a protest,” Darrell Lende, president of Northwest Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, said. “It's just an informational banner on what's going on, on the project."

And what's going on, according to these union reps, is thievery.

"There are workers on the site with Millennium concrete that are getting cheated out of wages," Lende said.

The subcontractor, Millennium, a company out of Iowa, was hired by McShane Construction, a company based in Illinois.

The reps say of the 20 or so Millennium workers, about six to eight of them, mostly Latino, have approached the unions about wage theft.

"And their rates are way off and stuff," Lende said.

For instance, Lende says, a cement mason should earn a rate of $44/hour, but instead would be classified as a carpenter by the company, and make $25.76 instead.

The reps say the company is also using intimidation tactics.

"Last October 2018 we met with three employees,” Lende said, “and the following day they were sent off the project back down to Iowa."

Octavio Chung, with the Minnesota/North Dakota branch of the Laborers' International Union of North America, says one worker was injured on the job, but not provided any medical care.

"If you get hurt on the job, the company that you're working for, they need to be responsible for that injury because it's a work injury," Chung said.

The reps say they want to put the pressure on the company that hired Millennium.

"McShane construction is the general contractor,” Lende said. “They have to make sure that their subcontractors are paid the right wages."

In a statement, Digi-Key says it was just "recently" made aware of the allegations, saying:

"We are working with our general contractor to understand the issue and will continue to monitor the situation."

Lende says he believes Digi-Key.

"Digi-Key is a great company,” he said, “and they're so good to the employees with their benefits, so it has nothing to do with Digi-Key."

We're told the Department of Labor is investigating.

"It's saving Millennium a lot of money, but the guys are getting cheated out of pay and it's stealing," Lende said.

We reached out to McShane Construction and Millennium Concrete, but haven't received comment from either by deadline.

The following is Digi-Key's statement in its entirety:

Digi-Key was very recently made aware of allegations involving a subcontractor working on the Digi-Key expansion project. We are working with our general contractor to understand the issue and will continue to monitor the situation.

We would like to emphasize that even according to Kevin Pranis, the Marketing Manager for LIUNA MN/ND, who is publicizing the allegations on behalf of LIUNA, Cement Masons Local 633, and the Northwest Minnesota Building Trades, the union action “isn’t against Digi-Key itself. Digi-Key does great stuff in the area. People are excited about this project.”

We will continue to monitor the process with McShane and their subcontractors. We would not condone the activities suggested in the allegations and expect McShane and their subcontractors to fairly resolve any issues in question.

Kevin Brown

Vice President, Brand & Communications