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City warns marina to obey pay law

The company that runs Erie Basin Marina is coming under fire from Buffalo's Living Wage Commission, which is prodding the city to suspend the firm's contract.

The panel claims Brand-On Services has flagrantly violated the city's living wage law since December 2003. The ordinance requires businesses that have large contracts with the city to pay higher hourly wages than the federal minimum wage.

The commission held grievance hearings this month, at which time two employees testified. The panel announced Thursday that it's calling on the city's Public Works Department to suspend the company's contract until all affected employees receive back pay plus interest.

The panel's investigation concluded that some workers were paid as little as $6 per hour, despite Brand-On being notified that it must comply with the city's living wage rule. It requires employers who have contracts worth at least $50,000 with the city to pay all workers at least $9.03, or $10.15 if no health insurance is offered.

"Unlike other employers who have worked with us to come into compliance voluntarily, Brand-On chose to ignore the commission, and more importantly, the law," said panel chairperson Lou Jean Fleron.

During the summer season, Brand-On typically hires 60 to 80 seasonal employees at Erie Basin Marina. It leases the facility from the city and operates the Hatch restaurant, boat slip rentals, gasoline sales and a gift shop. The city receives a percentage of the revenue.

During the hearing, Brand-On insisted the living wage law doesn't apply because it was not included in the city's bid specifications or in its contract.

"That doesn't mean they don't have to pay it," countered Sam Magavern, the commission's compliance officer. "They knew about [the wage law] before they even signed the contract."

Michael Wolasz, Brand-On's operations director, said he just received the commission's report and wants to speak with his attorney and city officials before commenting. "But I'm a reasonable guy, and I want to do what's right," he said.

The law gives the Public Works Department 30 days to review the commission's recommendation and take action. Outgoing Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra said it will boil down to attorneys deciding whether the company is obligated to pay the higher wage.

"It's a legal issue, because Brand-On is saying it's not in the contract," Giambra said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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