State looking into Pasco library workers' wage dispute

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 5, 2014 

West Pasco Library construction in 2012

A construction worker nails together wood framing in December, 2012 of the 6,000-square-foot west Pasco branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries building on the corner of Wrigley Drive and Road 76.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

State labor officials are investigating whether the builder of the west Pasco branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries properly paid workers on the project.

The Tri-Cities' newest library opened a year ago and was built by and is leased from retired banker Dennis Gisi.

Library officials and Gisi said workers didn't have to be paid Franklin County's prevailing wages -- often higher than minimum wage and required for many public projects -- because the project was built and is owned by a private developer.

But a regional construction workers union and state officials claim financing details and other issues appear to show otherwise.

That means about 50 people who worked on the project might have fallen under the state's prevailing wage requirement, which Gisi said could require him to pay the workers another $25,000 total in additional wages.

State law says workers on public works projects must be paid the determined prevailing wage for their area.

Prevailing wages are determined by the state Department of Labor & Industries through surveys and reviews of collective bargaining agreements of area workers. The determination also considers the cost of benefits and overtime, as well as hourly pay.

Gisi maintains that he wasn't required to pay prevailing wages on the project.

"This is not a public works project. This is privately owned by my wife and I and built for investment purposes," he told the Herald, adding that no taxpayer dollars were used in the construction.

Neither the state nor labor union officials have explained to Gisi why they think the project required prevailing wages, he said. A union work crew even worked on the project after being awarded a bid for a portion of the construction.

Mid-Columbia Libraries Executive Director Kyle Cox said the district always aims to follow state law and is cooperating with the state's investigation.

Cox said the lease for the building specifies that any noncompliance with state rules and laws falls on the building's owner, not the tenant.

The library district has a 10-year lease worth about $1.1 million for the 6,000-square-foot building on the corner of Wrigley Drive and Road 76.

Cox said the district's attorneys have said the prevailing wage laws do not apply to the project because the building is only leased by the library district and is just a small part of a larger planned development.

But B.C. Smith, president of the Central Washington Building & Construction Trades Council, said the new branch was a "turnkey project," meaning though it was built by a private developer, it is being solely used by a public agency.

"This is just another one of those public-private partnerships where they tried to skirt the law," he said.

A wage complaint was filed with the state, and officials said they found reason to investigate further.

While the library building is part of a larger planned development, the $960,000 construction contract only concerned the library building and not any other building phases, said a letter from the state to the library district, Gisi and general contractor on the project.

"The library is the solitary project present on the site," the letter said.

It's unclear how long the state investigation may take, state officials told the Herald.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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