In the tangled multinational web we currently inhabit, an elaborate scheme that involved Chinese, Spanish and Mexican firms employing Mexican nationals at the Rivian electric vehicle plant in Normal spurred investigation by Illinois Attorney General (AG) Kwame Raoul and the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL). The result was almost $400,000 in a wage and penalty settlement.
The construction workers were working 60-80 hours weekly without overtime.
A Chinese firm, Guangzhou Mino Equipment Company subcontracted Spain’s IT8 Software Engineering, S.L., which subcontracted Mexico’s LAM Automation (LAM) to procure workers and ensure they had U.S. work permits. The workers labored 60 to 80 hours weekly without overtime pay.
Livingston & McLean Counties Building & Construction Trades Council President and IBEW Local 197 business manager Mike Raikes said his members noticed Mino gang boxes appearing in the plant. His members started calling with questions: “Who are these workers, why can’t we communicate with them, are they being held to the same standards we are? Are they getting COVID tested twice weekly as Rivian policy requires?”
The Amazon delivery truck line is where the workers labored, doing all construction trades work – pipefitting, steel erection, forklift operation, wiring. Local union members who spoke Spanish opened a dialogue with these workers to learn their conditions.
According to AG Raoul’s office, although LAM was responsible for issuing payments to the workers, Mino and IT8 shared significant control over their work and their conditions of employment. In addition, Mino used these workers as part of its own labor force. The investigation by Raoul’s office and the DOL found these workers labored between 60 and 80 hours per week, seven days a week. Illinois law requires an overtime premium of 150% of regular hourly wages for each hour worked over 40 in a week. LAM’s employees did not receive the full overtime wages required by law. The three firms and their subcontractors were required to pay overtime wages and civil penalties, totaling $390,000, to 54 workers.
Raikes said. “I applaud Attorney General Raoul, his staff, and the Department of Labor for their efforts and findings of the exploitation of workers by three subcontractors at the Rivian plant. It is a bittersweet day that the Workers Protection Unit was able to bring the investigation to a close and find fraud, manipulation, and the cheating of wages for vulnerable workers. However, it is sad that in the year 2021 we have contractors going to extreme lengths to intentionally break the law. These contractors knew they were illegally bringing in foreign workers, paying less than area standards and benefits, no overtime pay, and hurting our local workers, contractors, and economy by doing so.”
“Any company doing business in our state must follow laws that require workers to be fairly compensated for the hours they work,” Raoul said. “This settlement should send a message that employers cannot hide behind subcontractors to avoid responsibility for stolen wages. I am committed to holding businesses – large and small – accountable for violating laws that safeguard workers and support law-abiding businesses in Illinois, and I appreciate the Illinois Department of Labor’s collaboration.”
“Part of the mission of the Illinois Department of Labor is ensuring workers are paid the wages to which they’re entitled. I’d like to recognize the hard work of employees within the Department of Labor and Attorney General’s office for thoroughly investigating these claims and bringing them to a resolution,” Illinois Department of Labor Director Michael Kleinik said. “Through IDOL’s work with the Office of the Attorney General, we’re pleased these back wages and penalties are resolved, and that action was taken to try and prevent this from happening to workers in the future.
A Bloomington Pantagraph December 2 editorial criticized Rivian, saying, “Rivian made $13.7 billion in its initial public offering last month and is expanding more and more in Normal. We hope the company does a better job doing business with subcontractors who aren’t the subject of state investigations that say workers are being shortchanged.”
Attorney General Raoul encourages workers who have concerns about wage and hour violations or potentially unsafe working conditions to call his Workplace Rights Hotline at 1-844-740-5076 or to file a complaint online at https://www2.illinois.gov/idol/Pages/Complaints.aspx.
Livingston & McLean Counties Bldg & Trades Council