A group of 14 construction workers petitioned a federal court in Los Angeles this week, seeking class action status for their lawsuit against the San Francisco-based pro dealer Building Materials Holding Corp. The plaintiffs claim the retailer and construction services provider forced them to work unpaid overtime for several years.

The workers filed their complaint only days after the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) issued a new report alleging that residential construction workers have been "defrauded" out of $750 million in wages by their employers. "The foundation of our country's housing market—already poisoned by suspect mortgage lending practices and unsustainable Wall Street driven overbuilding that has led to as many as 3 million foreclosures and a near meltdown of the U.S. economy—was, it turns out, also built on cheating workers out of millions of dollars in wages," LIUNA's general president Terence O'Sullivan said in a prepared statement.

LIUNA arrived at its wage fraud estimate by assuming that there are about 1 million workers in the residential construction industry, and by calculating that if underpayment for those workers amounted to only one hour per week of overtime, based on $10 an hour over 50 weeks per year, the amount of shortened wages would be $750 million, which LIUNA equates to 2.2% of the top 10 builders' annual profits. 

At a press conference this week, several workers involved in the suit against BMHC recounted how they had worked as much as 20 hours per week in overtime without getting paid for it by SelectBuild, a subsidiary of BMHC that provides construction services for such products as concrete foundations and fencing for leading home builders in the western United States.

A BMHC spokesman was quoted by a number of newspapers as stating that the company believes the suit is without merit and that the company complies with existing federal and state wage and labor laws. The spokesman also suggested that the lawsuit is part of a larger effort by LIUNA to unionize BMHC's workers.

Earlier this year, BMHC merged SelectBuild's operations with BMC West, its pro dealer unit. And last month, the company announced that it would close SelectBuild's operations in Florida by the end of this year.

John Caulfield is a senior editor at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.