Q and A with: Labor Commissioner Geoge Copadis

State Labor Commissioner George Copadis, a prominent member of the Greek Orthodox Church in Manchester, is known for handing out his baklava to politicians of all persuasions. He was originally appointed by then-Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, in 2004 and has twice been reappointed by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.n Q. When you first took the job, what were your goals and what did you accomplish?A. I had a lot of one-on-one with people who had lost their jobs. These folks live paycheck to paycheck. I played an active role in raising the minimum wage back then. I saw firsthand what happened at CCT (Car Component Technologies in Bedford) – 560 people showed up for work and the doors were locked. That’s a real problem. One of my goals was to act on a state WARN Act.We lowered the threshold to 75 or more employees, and we have a lien process as well. When a company closes its doors without any notification to these workers – that isn’t the right thing to do. With Car Components, we were able to go to the Delaware bankruptcy court. They initially carved out $104,000 and we were able to pay the workers a certain percentage. There are still outstanding monies. This happened five years ago, but we are still working on gaining access to $188,000. n Q. You come in supporting tougher sanctions on employers and the minimum wage, which is not a hot-button Republican issue.A. At the last public hearing I just went through (for reappointment), I had 29 letters of support from both sides of the aisle. I had strong support from the business community, as well as the unions. I think of myself as the type of person that is going to try to do the best that he can for workers as well as being as fair as possible with the businesses.n Q. Are you finding more enforcement needs, and what about your staffing levels? A. The staff has taken on additional responsibilities. For 2008, through wages claims, wage complaints and wage adjustments, the DOL returned to workers $1.7 million in money they were entitled to. In 2009, that number jumped to $5.3 million. And in fiscal 2010, it has dropped back down to $2.5 million. We haven’t had to cut staff yet. Some folks have left, and there were some retirements. So more with less.n Q. Misclassification of workers was a big issue a few years ago. How has that been working out?A. There is a 12-point criteria they need to meet in order to be classified as an independent contractor. We have been working on it jointly – the DOL, Employment Security, the Attorney General’s Office, Insurance and Revenue Administration – a misclassification task force. The general public can report misclassification through this tip sheet, which goes to all those five agencies.n Q. Is it possible that the state is making it hard for construction companies to operate?A. One party shouldn’t be able to outbid the other company because they don’t have to provide comp when they are misclassifying workers. We are not out to hurt businesses. The DOL provides constant access to the business community. We do labor law seminars throughout the state. Last year, we trained over 3,000 businesses. We have an e-mail alert system. Any business can sign up. Q. What’s the difference between working under Governors Benson and Lynch?A. When I initially started, Governor Benson was only in office for another six weeks. With Governor Lynch, the relationship has been outstanding. I’ve been part of the governor’s Jobs Cabinet, meeting with businesses. There are eight commissioners that go out, and we’ve done four or five sessions. The next one is scheduled for Nashua Sept 9. Q. What are you doing on Labor Day?A. I’ll be at the Labor Day breakfast at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, as I have been every year since I started this position.Bob Sanders can be reached at bsanders@nhbr.com.