The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development on Friday issued a cease and desist order to a non-profit outfit doing improvements to a trail in Old Town Kenai.
The Youth Restoration Corps, a Soldotna-based organization founded by Kelly Wolf 14 years ago, was told to stop work until it could comply with state labor regulations. Donna Glover, a wage and hour investigator with the department's Labor Standards and Safety Division, delivered the paperwork to the job site.
YRC was in the process of improving a walking trail from the top of the bluff in Old Town, down to the access road behind the dunes on the beach.
"(Gov.) Sean Parnell just put kids out of work," Wolf said.
Glover said a number of issues needed to be addressed before the group could continue work. She said work permits needed to be filed for members of the crew under 18. She said the group also needs to file payroll reports with the state.
Wolf said he was told that since his group doesn't work more than eight hours a day, work permits weren't necessary as long as parents signed off for their children. Most of the crew members are between 16 and 19 years old.
While addressing the paperwork wouldn't be too difficult a hurdle to overcome, Wolf said another issue is likely to shut down the program entirely. While there are exemptions under federal labor laws for groups doing restoration and remediation projects, Glover said the state labor laws are slightly different, and her agency is tasked with enforcing the more restrictive of the regulations.
Furthermore, Glover termed the project a "public construction project," rather than trail rehabilitation. She said it crossed a number of thresholds, which put it in a different category. Under those regulations, YRC would have to obtain a contractor's license -- which comes with expensive bonding requirements -- and pay its crew the prevailing wage for construction work.
Wolf said those requirements were not feasible for his small nonprofit outfit to meet. He said when he first started the organization, which has won national recognition for its work, he jumped through administrative hoops to make sure what he was doing was legal. He questioned why his group was being shut down, while there are numerous other organizations and agencies performing similar work all over the Peninsula.
Wolf said he had scheduled seven weeks of work for his crew this summer. When the Kenai project was complete, YRC was to have started some trail work at Arc Lake near Soldotna. Wolf said that without the means to obtain a contractor's license -- which he maintains his group doesn't need to do the work it's doing -- YRC wouldn't be doing any more work.
"We're dead," Wolf said. "Stick it with a fork. We're done."
When why none of the group's previous projects had been investigated, Glover said she hadn't seen any YRC paperwork come through her office.
Glover said that labor laws are usually put in place because somewhere along the way, someone has either abused the system or gotten hurt. She said her agency only enforces the rules on the book; the Legislature makes them.
"We try to educate and share information, and give them all the information they need so we can avoid situations like this," Glover said.
Wolf said he's just as concerned about the welfare of the people he hires. He said YRC carries insurance, including $2 million in liability. In addition, everyone on each job has workers' compensation coverage.
"We want to make sure they're protected," Wolf said. "Now these kids are going to go home thinking they've lost their summer job -- and they have."
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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