Labor and Community organizations gathered today to call on Chris Collins and his company, Audubon Machinery, to pay wages they have owed workers for almost 2 years. Audubon will appear before the New Jersey Department of Labor on Thursday, which has already issued a letter finding that the company willfully failed to pay workers prevailing wages and obstructed their investigation. Marshall Bertram from the WNY Council on Occupational Safety and Health, Bill Bing from the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, Gary Swain from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17, and Richard Lipsitz from the WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO gathered to call on Collins to pay $38,000 in back wages and penalties and to refrain from using taxpayer dollars to subsidize his businesses. See the full press release below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2016
CHRIS COLLINS’S BUSINESS FACES $38,000 FINE AND BAN FROM PUBLIC WORK IN NEW JERSEY
WORKER’S MISSING FINAL PAYCHECK LEADS TO NJ PREVAILING WAGE THEFT INVESTIGATION
An investigation into a business owned by U.S. Congressman Chris Collins has resulted in a $38,000 fine and potential debarment from public work in New Jersey for the company, executives, and Collins, as the chair of the board.
Audubon Machinery Corporation has been charged with willfully failing to pay its workers the prevailing wage on an out-of-state job. The New Jersey Department of Labor alleges that Audubon, a manufacturing company from North Tonawanda, New York, won the job by a low bid and then illegally failed to pay its workers what it promised in that bid. In July 2014, employees of the company installed laboratory cage- and bottle-washing equipment at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey. Upon investigation, the Department found a discrepancy between state-mandated certified payroll records and the actual pay records for the company’s employees – $19,000 in missing wages for six workers. In addition to wages, Audubon is being charged penalties and fees for the seven violations for a grand total of $37,821.
Debarment from public work in New Jersey is being considered for the company itself and President Joseph McMahon, CEO Robert Schlehr, and Chairman Chris Collins, as individuals. Collins has recently garnered media attention for being the first congressman to endorse Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump and for stirring up xenophobic ire during the Syrian refugee crisis last November.
After press picked up on the story, the hearing originally scheduled for March 10th was postponed. Justin Sondel from Albany’s City & State reported the company’s President, Joe McMahon stated “Audubon Machinery has been in complete compliance with New Jersey state law. When this issue was first brought to our attention, we provided officials with the relevant payroll record information and will continue to cooperate with any additional requests. We fully expect the investigation to reflect our full compliance when a final decision is reached.” However, the company is also being charged with violations concerning records obstruction, hindering, and inaccurate certified payroll records.
The case started when a former Audubon worker sought the help of the WNY Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH), a worker rights organization. He claimed the company failed to give him his last paycheck, did not pay the prevailing wage on the job, and retaliated against him after he demanded his wages. WNYCOSH sent a letter to the company demanding the wages he had earned without reply. Then workers, community members, and labor organizations held a rally at the company’s headquarters in December 2014. Audubon agreed to pay him his last paycheck, but denied failing to pay prevailing wages on the job in New Jersey.
Marshall Bertram, an attorney and WNYCOSH staff, dug up public contract documents and records from the University and found the discrepancy between Audubon’s state-mandated certified payroll records and what the workers actually were paid. The evidence was then brought to the New Jersey Department of Labor. “Audubon Machinery tried to gain an unfair competitive advantage over responsible contractors by cheating workers on public works and stealing taxpayer dollars. Congressman Collins should be ashamed of himself and pay back workers immediately rather than contest the charges” said Anna Falicov, General Counsel to the New York Foundation for Fair Contracting, a non-profit organization that assisted in bringing the violation to the NJDOL’s attention.
Audubon and Collins are no strangers to taxpayer dollars. Since 2006, Audubon has received $9.8 million from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. – a controversial bank that gives taxpayer money to businesses. Faced with being disolved, Collins vehemently defended that bank in 2015 in his role as Congressman. Audubon has also received millions of taxpayer dollars in federal grants, government loans, and state and federal contracts. Collins himself draws income from eleven other companies and sits on the board of directors of thirteen, many of which rely on money from state and federal contracts, public subsidies, and government loans. Collins’s involvement in prevailing wage theft could have potential financial consequences for these other companies. Collins is facing debarment from New Jersey public work both as the chairman of the Audubon board of directors and individually, meaning no New Jersey public contracts could be awarded to any company in which he has an interest. If the charges are upheld, Collins’s involvement could become a liability for dozens of companies nationwide.
ln addition to reliance on public money, Collins’ companies have another commonality – a contentious history with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of the seven companies that are not simply real estate LLCs, four have racked up over 100 OSHA violations. A few date back to the Administration’s inception in the early 1980s, but many are more recent. Including one company that has already violated safety standards in the early months 2016.
“The hard working men and women of this country deserve a decent and livable wage,” said Senator Marc Panepinto (D-Buffalo). “To blatantly cheat them out of that hard-earned right and the financial stability that they deserve is nothing short of criminal. I encourage those involved to pay the prevailing wage that is owed and urge the Department of Labor to hold those responsible fully accountable for their shameful actions.”
Richard Lipsitz, President of the WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, stated “The prevailing rate was put in place to ensure workers are paid a decent wage and to protect responsible contractors from being underbid. When responsible contractors are put at a disadvantage against one that breaks the law, there must be consequences.”
Audubon is contesting the charges, but a hearing to resolve the matter has been postponed. The company will appear before the NJDOL on March 24th for a hearing on charges of unpaid wages, failure to pay prevailing wage, failure to register, obstruction, hindering, and others.
 U.S. Export-Import Bank Authorizations from 10/1/2006 to 6/30/2015, available at data.exim.gov.
 Zremski, Jerry, “Collins Bucks Tea Party to Help Save Trade Bank,” Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), October 27, 2015 www.buffalonews.com/city-region/collins-bucks-tea-party-to-help-save-trade-bank-20151027.
 Federal Contract data gathered from www.usaspending.gov, government-contracts.insidegov.com, and data.exim.gov.
 Christopher Collins 2014 Congressional Financial Disclosure Statement, available at http://clerk.house.gov/public_disc/financial-pdfs/2014/9106603.pdf.
 U.S. Department of Labor’s Enforcement Data for Audubon Machinery Corporation, Bloch Industries, Volland Electric Equipment, and Easom Automation Systems, available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov/views/search.php. (Some companies have multiple entries for different formats, e.g., Volland Electric Equipment Corp. and Volland Electric Equipment Corporation)