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Audit flags prevailing wage record-keeping on UMass Building Authority projects

  • State Auditor Suzanne Bump. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2020 6:30:28 PM
Modified: 5/21/2020 6:30:18 PM

Some workers handling public projects overseen by the University of Massachusetts Building Authority, including construction at the Isenberg School of Management on the UMass Amherst campus, may not have received the required prevailing wage, according to a state audit released Thursday.

In the audit conducted by State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, almost half of the more than 3,000 employees who worked on 83 projects on the five UMass campuses between July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018 could have received compensation below prevailing wage, while 90 employees were definitely underpaid for their work.

“The UMass Building Authority is responsible for ensuring employees working on its public projects are paid fairly and accurately,” Bump said in a statement, in which she called on the building authority to establish better employee payroll monitoring processes. “Failure to do so will mean some workers could be short-changed when working on public projects.”

Prevailing wages are defined as the minimum hourly rates set by the state’s Division of Labor Standards for job classifications. The building authority — which is an independent public body responsible for overseeing public works construction projects on the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester Medical School campuses — contracts with what are called owner’s project managers, or OPMs, to maintain and monitor records of compliance with the prevailing wage law.

John Hoey, spokesman for the UMass President’s Office, said the vast majority of the audit is positive and demonstrates that the building authority is almost entirely in compliance for how it handles projects.

In fact, the audit found no deficiencies in the building authority’s processes for reviewing and approving capital projects, monitoring payments and change orders, and completion and closeout of contracts.

In a statement provided by Hoey, the building authority, which says it has created more than 2,000 construction jobs across the state over the past year and has been a leader in diversifying the building trades workforce, defended its practices.

“Although the state auditor raises a significant public policy matter, we are confident that those agencies already charged under the law with this responsibility are able to perform the necessary oversight and enforcement related to the prevailing wage law. Expecting the UMass Building Authority to take on this responsibility would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, imposing a new financial burden that would be borne by students through tuition.”

Of the 3,344 employee payroll records reviewed in the audit, almost half, or 1,608 employees, had job classifications for contractor employees that did not match the prevailing wage rate sheets kept by the Division of Labor Standards. This made it impossible for auditors to determine whether these employees were paid the appropriate prevailing wage.

Of the remaining employees reviewed by Bump’s office, 90, or approximately 5%, were paid less than the required prevailing wage.

In addition to establishing a payroll policy that includes a documented process for its OPMs to follow to effectively detect, investigate and report any contractors who may not be complying with the state’s prevailing wage law, the audit recommends the building authority, whose board is made up of 11 members appointed by the governor, establish monitoring c ontrols to ensure OPMs are adhering to the process.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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