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Janitors owed back wages

Following a state Department of Labor and Industries audit, the Spokane Public Facilities District is on the hook for $135,000 because of underpayment of wages by a janitorial contractor.

For more than two years, the PFD has contracted with a Texas-based firm called Sanitors to clean district buildings, including the Spokane Arena. L&I audited Sanitors’ records from late 2003 to mid-2006 following a worker complaint, according to PFD officials.

“State law requires municipalities pay prevailing wages on jobs of this nature, so ultimately liability can be traced back to this board,” said PFD attorney Stanley Schwartz. “The whole idea behind payment of a prevailing wage is when government hires people they’re paid a living wage, not a substandard wage. So therefore the responsibility shifted back to this entity to comply with the law.”

PFD Executive Director Kevin Twohig said Sanitors claimed to have not known Washington is a prevailing-wage state. PFD board Chairman Rick LaFleur said during a Tuesday meeting that this is Sanitors’ first job in the state.

“The real important fact here is the money goes to the workers,” Schwartz said. “This is not money simply paid over to a company. It goes through L&I to the workers.”

No one from L&I was available to discuss the case Tuesday. PFD officials were not informed of the specific number of employees affected, the discrepancy in wages or how much each employee would receive in back wages.

The PFD board voted Tuesday to negotiate payment of the appropriate sum to satisfy the L&I claim. The board also voted to issue a request for proposals from other janitorial firms to check costs and review the competition. That process will determine whether Sanitors continues to provide cleaning services to the district in the future.

Twohig said the situation is unfortunate because Sanitors was doing “a fantastic job.” In addition, he said, with a busy season including the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships starting next month, it’s inconvenient to change cleaning services right now.

Board member Mick McDowell, however, said he wants to see whether there’s another company that could provide competitive service.

“I buy into the fact that they’re doing a really good job, and yet they’ve embarrassed us,” McDowell said.

Twohig said Sanitors’ billing to the district wasn’t hourly, so the wage underpayment was not apparent. However, he said, the PFD knew custodial work required the prevailing wage, so the district staff should have confirmed it was being paid.

“Ultimately, a bunch of employees were paid the wrong rate,” Twohig said. “They were paid less they should have been paid and we want to fix that.”