Carpenter’s death at Chesterton site draws inquiries into labor laws observance

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chesterton in site
The site at an earlier stage in construction (Google Street View)

The July 22 death of a carpenter at a Chesterton construction site has prompted an investigation of the incident and a wider call for increased efforts at the local level to see if contractors are abiding by employment laws, NWI.com reports.

Mattias Miguel-Baltazar, 35, fell Monday morning while working at the Eagle Crossing Apartments at 2113 Kelle Dr., police say.

Miguel-Baltazar had an Indianapolis address but was carrying a Guatemalan identification card.

Fellow crew members said he 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.

John Laporte, national safety director general contractor Core Construction, told NWI.com that the incident is still under investigation.

“We are currently gathering the facts of the incident and are unable to comment,” said Core Construction’s national safety director John Laporte. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the his family,” he said in a text message exchange. “We will get back to you when investigation is complete.”

Core Construction had contracted with CBS Construction of Fort Wayne for the framing work, and CBS Construction brought in the Indianapolis-based firm Alexis Construction, where Miguel-Baltazar worked, police said. Police said they were only able to find a generic Facebook page for Alexis Construction and no official state government listing.

Police said they initially had difficulty identifying the foreman at the site because the construction crew’s primary language was Spanish.

Police said they were unable to find a listing with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the deceased man.

A cousin of Miguel-Baltazar, who also works for Alexis, notified their family, police said.

Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council, called the incident tragic but said he believes it will help fuel efforts to get more local communities to adopt an ordinance requiring contractors to comply with federal and state employment laws, NWI.com reported.

Dewey Pearman, executive director of the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana, said 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.

He 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.

Miguel-Baltazar’s foreman described him as an on-time employee, who never complained and “was working out quite well,” police said.

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