UH-Downtown contractor under fire from union

Bad checks, questionable recordkeeping alleged

by Al Greenwood

Daily Cougar Senior Staff

An electrical workers' union is conducting a membership campaign at a University of Houston-Downtown construction project and is currently targeting a local subcontracting firm, Daniel Tong and Associates, which is performing electrical work for the site, for membership. However, the same union is also alleging questionable business practices by the company.

"It's a campaign to get Daniel Tong to join the union," Ray Rath, an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said.

General contractor Williams Development and Construction Inc. hired subcontractor Daniel Tong and Associates to do electrical work at the Student Life Center at UH-Downtown. The center will include a gymnasium, as well as basketball and volleyball courts.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union passed out fliers at UH and UH-Clear Lake, showing a bad check written by Daniel Tong and Associates.

However, Daniel Tong said he wrote the $2,026 check to electrician Stanley Grace for working eight days at a local Buddhist temple.

Tong said he asked Grace to hold the check for a few days, but that Grace tried to cash the check anyway. When the check was cashed, it was returned and stamped "insufficient funds."

However, the check eventually cleared, and Grace received his cash June 4.

"We're trying to better the whole industry" by revealing Tong's business practices, Rath said.

Jeff Page, project manager for Williams Development and Construction Inc., said, "There is no proof that anything has gone wrong."

Tong said, "(Of) all the jobs I'm working now, this is the only job they're picketing," Tong said. Page said, "I think it's all because of the university being a high-profile job."

"(Tong) has showed up on the job every single day," he said. "The guy's trying and that says a lot about his character."

Rath also alleged UH has no access to Tong's payroll. The payroll can indicate whether an employer is paying his workers a reasonable wage and if the employer is making federal deductions from the workers' paychecks.

Dale Wortham, an assistant business manger for IBEW, said, "What could happen is that a contractor can go home at night, fill out his wage rates and never submit them to anyone. We have not found anyone at UH that is in charge of monitoring that the reports are done."

By law, a contractor must post the payroll in public view, but union representatives assert that this is not happening, and further allege that UH is not enforcing the law regarding posting of wage rates.

"We look at the payrolls to see if something is wrong," Vice Chancellor James Berry said. "We could examine them if we had cause to do so. If an employee makes a complaint, we will get the wage rates," According to Berry, no employee has complained so far.

Wortham and Rath also said that Tong isn't deducting social security, unemployment and FICA from the employees' checks.

"He didn't complete it out correctly or he's not doing it," Rath said.

As a result, "the worker reaps what he feels is a good deal because he's getting these big checks," Wortham said. "But then the worker gets hit with that tax bill the employer should have been paid. He doesn't get any social security paid in and if he gets laid off and he wants to draw his unemployment compensation, there's nothing paid in for him." Tong said he doesn't make the deductions for employees from temporary services and from subcontractors. Tong writes a check to the temporary services and subcontractors, who then write the paycheck to the individual employees.

"Some workers want the lump sum," Tong said. "He pays the deductions at the end of the year. It's a matter of transferring money."

"It's just a matter of who does the paperwork," Tong said.

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