Masonry company fights attempt to collect unpaid overtime

A Washington County masonry company is fighting the state Department of Labor’s attempts to collect
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A Washington County masonry company is fighting the state Department of Labor’s attempts to collect more than $400,000 in unpaid overtime for foreign workers.

Less than two months after the overtime issue drove The Stone Artist to file for Chapter 11 reorganization, the Argyle company asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Albany on Friday to block the Labor Department’s collection efforts.

The mason had employed seasonal workers under the U.S. Department of Labor’s H-2B temporary visa program between 2004 and last December, when the state Labor Department said an agency audit showed the company owed more than $400,000 in unpaid overtime.

The 32-year-old masonry firm subsequently learned that its payroll company, Paychex, allegedly had been paying workers straight time even for hours over the standard 40-hour work week.

The Stone Artist, which paid its H-2B employees the standard rate required by the federal Labor Department and gave merit increases for returning foreign workers, has replaced Paychex. It is also suing the payroll company in state court over negligence allegations, according to court documents.

The Stone Artist last year aided in the construction of a Colonie house for the “Extreme Makeover: Home edition” television show. The company’s Web site states it employs more than 50.

The company disputes the Labor Department’s $400,000 claim, saying an internal audit puts the figure at about $200,000. The agency audit also allegedly did not take into account an estimated $600,000 of in-kind services the mason provided to its H-2B workers. Many of those workers would “arrive at the debtor’s doorstep with nothing more than clothes on their backs,” according to court documents.

A state Labor Department spokeswoman and Stone Artist attorney did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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