Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries announced a settlement Wednesday in a wage dispute with Southern Oregon University.
Under the settlement, the university will pay $2.5 million to workers who built a new residence hall and dining area on the campus. BOLI found that SOU had underpaid the workers under the state’s wage law for public works projects.
Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian says the settlement is the result of a multi-year agency investigation.
“The roughly $2.5 million is every dime that workers were owed on that project and Southern Oregon has agreed to pay every dime that workers were owed.”
Officials at Southern Oregon University disagreed that additional wages were owed on the project.
“Due to the time and cost of litigating the dispute, the SOU administration concluded that it was in the best interest of all involved to mutually resolve the dispute,” said Ryan Brown, head of community and media relations for the university. “SOU is looking forward to moving on from the issue and continuing to serve our students and community.”
Avakian says the agreement is the biggest settlement of its kind in the agency’s history. Prior to this, the largest was a $2.4 million settlement in a civil rights case with Daimler Trucks North America.
“Workers in Oregon should know that if they’re ever working on a public project like this one that they’re entitled to be paid a living wage for the work that they do,” said Avakian.
Avakian said his investigators heard about the possible wage discrepancy while investigating another claim in Southern Oregon.
The agency conducted 80 audits in the investigation and determined that the university owed $2,569,387 to both contractors and subcontractors on the project.
“When we do an investigation we investigate both the government agency and the contractor to make sure the law is being followed,” said Avakian. “There’s a responsibility of both the contractors and the government body to ensure that workers are being paid the amount of money that they’re due.”
Avakian said that contractors and public agencies will often check with his agency before initiating a project, to see if it falls under the state’s prevailing wage laws.
“It’s unfortunate that that did not happen in this case, which is what led to the investigation and now the settlement,” said Avakian. “But, that said, we’re very pleased that Southern Oregon has stepped up, is paying the money, and that workers are going to get everything that they and their families earned.”