House Republicans held a forum last month to slam the Obama administration’s alliance with organized labor, charging, among other things, that government favoritism toward the labor movement was unfairly preventing non-union companies from getting contracts. But GOP lawmakers declined to mention that a key witness at the event, the CEO of a Pennsylvania construction firm, had in fact agreed to be temporarily barred from receiving government contracts after being found to have violated state wage laws by underpaying workers.
Stephen Worth, who runs Worth & Company, appeared in late January alongside Steve Forbes and Elaine Chao as a witness at a Capitol Hill forum entitled “A Culture of Favoritism: The Obama Administration’s Labor Agenda.” The event, organized by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor committee, was designed to showcase, as a GOP press release put it, how “Washington Democrats have sought to reward political allies” in the labor movement, “at the expense of working Americans.”Worth was there to offer the perspective of an ordinary American business owner, frustrated by the administration’s alleged bias toward labor unions. First, he recounted (pdf) how, as a young man, he saw a worker who crossed a picket line dragged out of his truck and beaten by a mob of vicious labor goons. Then, Worth lamented that “my employees currently are being cut out of jobs in their own backyard,” thanks to Pennsylvania contracts that require that projects be awarded only to union contractors.
Worth acknowledged that no federal contracts actually work that way. But even if they did, he’d hardly be an ideal spokesman for the message. Last year, according to an order examined by TPMmuckraker, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor found that Worth & Company had violated the state’s Prevailing Wage Act by failing to maintain accurate wage records; by repeatedly employing too many lower-paid apprentices, rather than more highly paid workers; and by paying apprentices less per hour than the prevailing rate due, among other violations. The state found that Worth & Company’s actions “were willful and with a knowing disregard of the rights of its workers.”
In response, Worth launched his own legal action against the department. To settle the matter, he ultimately agreed to pay $138,525.10 to the underpaid workers, and agreed that his firm would be barred from receiving any new state contracts subject to the wage law until November 2010. The settlement agreement made clear that it did not constitute an admission by Worth that he had violated the Prevailing Wage Act.
In other words, if Worth’s firm is missing out on some state contracts, he may have only himself to blame.
The hearings weren’t the first time that Worth — a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group of construction firms — has offered support to a Republican cause. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Worth & Company played host to a John McCain town-hall event, at which the GOP candidate called the firm “a great American success story.”
Neither Worth nor a spokesperson for Kline’s committee office responded immediately to a request for comment.