CHESTERTON — A regional building and construction trades advocacy group is calling for an investigation into the payroll practices of the subcontractor that had employed a carpenter who died July 22 at a Chesterton construction site.
"I'm just calling on all authorities to go after the contractor and anyone else who knew about the firm's business practices," said Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council.
"We're going to continue to look into this," he said. "It's not going away."
The company in question — Indianapolis-based Alexis Construction — has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing.
But in the wake of the death that Palmateer called tragic, he voiced hope it would help fuel efforts to get more local communities to adopt an ordinance requiring contractors to comply with federal and state employment laws.
The proposed ordinance requires contractors to comply with the law by paying employees as employees, rather than the all-too-common practice of compensating them as independent contractors, said Dewey Pearman, executive director of the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana.
A spokesman for Core Construction — the general contractor at the Chesterton construction site — could not be reached Friday for comment.
But John LaPorte, national safety director for Core, said a few days after the death that the company was gathering facts and was not ready to comment further.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the his family," he said in an text message exchange.
Mattias Miguel-Baltazar, a 35-year-old carpenter, fell about 10 a.m. while working at the Eagle Crossing Apartments under construction east of Indiana 49 at 2113 Kelle Drive in Chesterton, according to police.
Miguel-Baltazar, who had an Indianapolis address but was carrying a Guatemalan identification card, was taken to Porter Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Fellow crew members said Miguel-Baltazar was standing atop an 8-foot A-frame ladder handing sheets of plywood overhead to other workers on the second floor of the building when he fell down to the concrete foundation, police said.
Police said they found Miguel-Baltazar lying on his back with his head surrounded by blood. The man was not responsive at the scene.
Core Construction had contracted with CBS Construction of Fort Wayne for the framing work, and CBS Construction brought in Alexis Construction, where Miguel-Baltazar worked, police said. Neither of the latter two firms could be reached for comment.
Pearman has said companies skirt the law to avoid paying Social Security, payroll taxes and unemployment and worker compensation, which then shifts that burden back on everyone who is following the law.
The practice, according to the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, costs the state of Indiana $405 million each year due to payroll fraud.
There is also a moral driver to this effort, Pearman said.
"These workers are being exploited," he said.
The ordinance has been adopted in Portage, Merrillville and Hobart and is under consideration in Valparaiso, Palmateer said.
A similar "responsible bidder ordinance" has been adopted by government units throughout the Region to ensure legal compliance, information disclosure and an even playing field when it comes to publicly funded projects, Pearman said.
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