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Former bridgetenders sue over wages

Three former Blynman Bridge bridgetenders are suing their former employer, claiming East Boston-based Cora Operations Inc. failed to pay them adequately. In fact, they say, only a fraction of what state law dictates for public works jobs.

Rockport residents Peter Billert and Frank Favalora, along with Beverly resident Troy Raymond, claim in their suit filed in Essex County Superior Court that Cora Operations failed to pay them at a “minimum prevailing wage rate” as required of employers on public works projects.

Instead, they said, Cora Operations, which has contracted with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to operate the Western Avenue span also known as the Cut Bridge, set their pay at a maximum of $13.50 per hour.

The lawsuit, which will be heard in Superior Court in Newburyport, also names John V. Zirpolo as a defendant. The suit describes Zirpolo as the president, treasurer and secretary of Cora Operations. Zirpolo did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

The suit claims the three bridgetenders — all of whom ceased working at Cora in 2015 — should have been paid at a higher rate mandated by state statute than the hourly rate set by Cora.

“Cora contracted with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation through multiple public works contracts to provide maintenance, repair and construction work on the (Blynman) Bridge,” the lawsuit stated. “Each of the contracts between Cora and MassDOT for work at the bridge were public works projects and subject to the Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law.”

Under that law, wages for public construction employees are set by the Department of Labor Standards and a schedule of those wage rates must be provided to employers to assure employees are paid at the prevailing wage rate, according to attorney Michael Bace, who is representing the three plaintiffs.

“It’s fundamentally unfair that these three men worked on that bridge for five years at $11, $12 or $13 an hour when they should have been paid at a prevailing rate,” Bace said. The current bridgetenders, he said, are paid at a prevailing rate of between $74 and $75 per hour.

Bace was asked how much his clients are seeking in the lawsuit.

“That’s really difficult to say because we don’t know which of the prevailing rates they should have been paid at,” Bace said. “Ultimately, I believe, it will be up to the court to decide that.”

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT