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With new settlement, more Mexican workers at Rivian plant will get owed overtime pay

Rivian plant exterior
Eric Stock
The investigation was prompted by a tip from the IBEW Local 197 electricians union in Bloomington. That union has previously raised concerns about out-of-town and foreign workers at the Rivian plant.

More Mexican laborers who helped get Rivian’s electric vehicle plant ready for production will finally get the overtime pay they were owed but never received.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Tuesday announced a settlement with two companies based in China and Florida that allegedly failed to pay the overtime wages. It’s similar in scope to an agreement that Raoul announced in December involving three companies and lost wages.

In Tuesday's settlement, 59 workers will get $315,000 in overtime wages and penalties.

“Any company doing business in our state must follow Illinois’ laws that require workers to be fairly paid for the time they work,” Raoul said in a statement. “These settlements should send a message that employers cannot hide behind subcontractors to avoid responsibility for stolen wages, and I appreciate the Illinois Department of Labor’s collaboration. I am committed to holding businesses – large and small – accountable for violating laws that safeguard workers and support law-abiding businesses in Illinois.”

Rivian is not involved in the settlement and has not been named as a defendant.

“As the Attorney General's office stated in its release, Rivian was not held responsible for the actions of its subcontractors in these lawsuits,” a Rivian spokesperson said. “This incident happened outside of Rivian's direct oversight in addition to our ethical standards, practices, and policies. We will continue to work to ensure that everyone working inside a Rivian facility is treated respectfully and compensated fairly and appropriately.”

WGLT asked Alvar Ayala, chief of the Illinois attorney general's Workplace Rights Bureau, whether Rivian bears any responsibility for what happened.

“Based on our investigation, we went after the entities we felt like we could put the strongest case against. Obviously, any employer is advised to try and hire contractors that will follow the law,” Ayala said. “We went after the entities that we felt, based on our investigation, that we could put the best case together for and were responsible for the violation.”

The attorney general’s office says three companies were allegedly involved in the events leading to Tuesday’s settlement. China-based MINO was hired by Rivian to build assembly lines. MINO subcontracted some of that work to Florida-based BIW Automotive Solution Inc. BIW then further subcontracted that work to Mexico-based SDS, the attorney general said.

The 59 workers hired through that “elaborate subcontracting arrangement” were routinely working 60 to 80 hours per week, the attorney general said. Illinois law requires an overtime premium of 150% of regular hourly wages for each hour worked over 40 in a week. SDS’ employees did not receive any overtime wages required by law, the attorney general said.

SDS and its president, David Semmelweis, paid "the employees hourly wages of between $11 and $15 for each hour of work, no matter how many hours they worked in a given workweek," the attorney general alleged in a complaint filed Tuesday. SDS also paid a daily stipend of between $30 and $35 for each day worked, plus free lodging at hotels and apartments near the Rivian plant, the complaint said.

The 59 workers impacted are separate from the 54 involved in the December settlement, which led to $390,000 in back wages and penalties. MINO was a contractor in both cases.

“Luckily, our office has Spanish-speaking attorneys, myself being one of them,” Ayala said. “Normally, I’d say there would be a challenge in building trust and finding workers. We were able to do that here because we had those resources. And probably it also helped that, at the end of the day, these people all worked together. And when you get a big chunk of money for one set of those workers, and if they know workers on the other side, that helps with our credibility.”

Under a consent decree filed Tuesday, MINO has agreed to pay $170,000 in owed overtime wages and penalties, and BIW will pay an additional $145,000. SDS and Semmelweis have “refused to cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation or engage in settlement discussions,” the attorney general said. They face a new lawsuit related to this matter.

The investigation was prompted by a tip from the IBEW Local 197 electricians union in Bloomington. That union has previously raised concerns about out-of-town and foreign workers at the plant.

The investigation was jointly conducted with the Illinois Department of Labor.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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