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A recent article from Delaware Online is getting a lot of attention for calling out the Interfaith Community Housing Program of Delaware on some allegedly questionable practices with its construction training program.
Many of the attendees thought the program was going to help them get some formal training in construction and earn a little bit of money at the same time. However, several of the trainees are claiming that they spent much of their allotted class time performing free labor for the state and, in one case, even for the home of an Interfaith staff member.
The program, called HomeWorks, is described as a “pre-apprenticeship” construction program, structured to be part unpaid class time and part paid on-the-job training. The state Department of Labor granted $167,000 to HomeWorks for its pilot year, and a $100,000 grant from the Criminal Justice Council for the project director’s salary through June. The classroom portion covers basic math and safety protocols and, after that, students can work on actual construction projects with contractors, earning $10 per hour for up to 30 hours per week.
However, some of the participants allege that they spent much less time in the classroom and much more time performing construction work during that class time—unpaid and working on properties Interfaith was renovating to resell. Former students also allege that they weren’t provided basic safety equipment like hard hats, and were left unsupervised for hours during their training.
They were also classified as independent contractors rather than employees, a common practice that allows employers to skirt paying benefits, unemployment, or workers’ compensation insurance. The program trainees, mostly black men with criminal records, told Delaware Online they felt taken advantage of. “You exploited people that have been exploited their whole life,” said Dale Reed, a former program participant. “And you had no problem doing it.”
Interfaith director Gary Pollio told the news outlet that the participants were simply training during the times they were working on construction sites during classroom hours, so those hours didn’t count toward the paid work indicated on the program schedule. Regardless, the program is now under investigation by the state Department of Labor.
If you believe an employer is violating Delaware labor laws, you should speak with a qualified employment law attorney today. The lawyers at Silverman, McDonald & Friedman will protect your rights as a worker. Our lawyers serve clients in the Wilmington, Seaford, and Newark areas. Call 302-888-2900 or fill out our contact form today.