With less than a week before the Sept. 11 primary, a two-year-old case involving Senator Frank Lombardo is being thrust back into the spotlight by his opposition. Lombardo’s race will be decided on Tuesday, as the Democrat faces a primary challenge from a first-time candidate, 19-year-old Nicole Acciardo.
In June of 2010, Department of Labor and Training charged that Lombardo, owner of Frank Lombardo & Sons, Inc., failed to pay prevailing wages to seven employees involved in the DMV state project in Cranston. In a letter sent to elected officials and members of the media, Johnston resident Joe DiBenedetto argues that the charges reflect poorly on the Dist. 25 Senator. DiBenedetto is Acciardo’s stepfather, and the two are registered to vote from the same address.
“That was a state contract that he did that on; that’s just not right. You’ve got to pay your guys. You’re taking food off their table,” DiBenedetto said on Monday. “If he’s screwing his own workers, what’s to say he’s not going to screw the town residents?”
Lisa Tirocchi, the state’s Chief Prevailing Wage investigator, determined that Frank Lombardo & Sons, Inc. failed to pay seven employees wages and interest in the amount of $17,231.
Lombardo paid the penalty, but he said that money had nothing to do with fair treatment of employees.
“This makes it look like I don’t pay prevailing wages, and that is so far from the truth,” he said. “If you work for me, you get what you’re entitled to. I didn’t cheat anybody.”
Lombardo provided the Sun Rise with payroll affidavits that gave an hourly salary breakdown of the workers involved in the DMV contract. In five of the seven cases, the difference between what Lombardo paid and what the state deemed appropriate had to do with fringe benefits. Businesses are able to take out fringe benefits like vacations, holidays and health care from the state-calculated prevailing wage if they pay for those benefits separately. The difference is pennies per hour, but over the course of a year can add up, and the DMV project lasted for more than 52 weeks. Those five employees were owed, collectively, roughly $2,800.
In the remaining incidents, Lombardo was penalized for not notifying the state that two apprentices had come to work for his company. Those apprentices were registered with the state, but because Lombardo didn’t fill out a form indicating their association with Lombardo & Sons, DLT determined that he would have to pay them as journeymen, rather than apprentices, leading to penalties of $6,691 and $7,655.
At any given time, Frank Lombardo & Sons employs up to 20 people. Given the scope of the DMV project, though, he needed the two additional apprentices.
“I didn’t think I was doing anything illegal, but the State of Rhode Island penalized me without any warning. A matter of a name change cost me $14,000,” he said, calling it a “hard lesson” in running a business.
Lombardo joined his family’s company in 1980, and said this is the only time they were penalized by DLT. The experience, he added, is one of the things that motivated him to run for office.
“I was so discouraged and upset with the State of Rhode Island and how they treated a small business,” he said.
Two years later, the Senator maintains that much needs to be done to make Rhode Island a business friendly state.
DiBenedetto is a member of the Laborers’ Union 271, and said he takes this incident involving Lombardo personally.
“I’m a working man. I get up every day at 5 o’clock and go to work. I just want what’s coming to me, which any other working man would want,” he said.
When reached for comment this week, Acciardo said that the implications of the case hit close to home. As a customer service representative with Stop & Shop, she is a union member, and has received campaign support from several labor unions, including Rhode Island AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Council 94 AFSCME, UFCW Local 328 and the National Association of Social Workers.
“I feel very strongly about the issues that affect the working middle class,” she said.
Acciardo did not comment further on the issue, and said she would rather focus her campaign on her ideas for the town’s Senate seat.
“I like to focus my campaign on the positives but I believe Senator Lombardo’s actions speak for themselves,” she said.
Lombardo isn’t convinced. He believes that releasing this information two years after the fact is an attempt to damage his reputation.
“I think it’s something to try and smear what I’ve accomplished over my life,” he said. “I’m not a dishonorable person. I hope this puts it to rest.”