AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Representatives of the Carpenters Local Union 665 spent the majority of the day on Tuesday standing on the property of the historic Potter County Courthouse lawn at the intersection of Sixth Street and Fillmore, holding a sign that said:
“Potter County Commissioners: Are YOU concerned with TAX FRAUD and WAGE THEFT on YOUR project?”
Officials with the union are claiming that workers on the new Potter County District Courts building are not receiving their correct wages and benefits while working on the project, led by Adolfson & Peterson Construction, a construction management firm and general contractor. Officials from the Carpenters Local Union 665 are also claiming that taxes are not being paid on the labor of many of the workers.
How did we get here?
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, officials with Potter County and Adolfson & Peterson Construction broke ground on the new $63 million district courts building in March 2021. The five-story, 158,250-square-foot facility is expected to include courtrooms, county offices and record storage. This comes as the current district courts building was constructed in 1985.
Officials with the construction company said at the time that this was their first project in Amarillo, saying that they were able to “meet the County’s budget while leaving the integrity of the initial design plans intact.” Adolfson & Peterson has previously conducted projects including the Rockwall County Jail, the Marq for the city of Southlake as well as the North Dallas Government Center.
According to its Facebook page, the Carpenters Local Union 665 is an affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America, Central South Carpenters Regional Council. The goal of the union is to “provide trained craftsmen while ensuring fair wages, benefits and training.”
What is the Carpenters Local Union 665 alleging?
According to a news release from the union, officials said that they have evidence that workers on the district courts building project are “being paid far less than legal and contracted wages and benefits.” Officials also claim that residents and institutions are also suffering because “taxes are not being paid on the labor of many workers.”
John Roberts, a representative of the union, said in the release that he discovered wage theft and tax fraud happening on the project in March after a labor broker was hired to provide interior systems workers on the project. The union claims that the prevailing wage rate of $29.56 per hour ($22.25 in wages and $7.31 in fringe benefits), was set within the project manual.
After allegedly speaking with the carpenters on-site about what was occurring on the district courts job site, officials said in the release that Roberts notified members of the Potter County Commissioners Court about workers being underpaid on the project in April. During the May 9 meeting, Roberts provided the court with alleged proof of these allegations on the site.
According to the release, two hearings were scheduled in June surrounding this matter, both of which were postponed by agreement among the parties. Mediation is currently scheduled for July 18.
“The union continues to investigate and has evidence that the workers are still not being paid the legally required wages. Many, maybe most, of the carpenters on the job are not even being paid as employees,” the release said. “They do not have taxes taken out of their pay, depriving the citizens of Potter County of the tax revenues necessary for civic projects. The result will be greater taxes paid by law-abiding local residents… The aim of the Council is to be sure that laws are followed, and all proper taxes are paid. Area standards should be protected. The Potter County Judge and Commissioners should not be helping contractors deprive local residents and honest contractors of needed tax revenues.”
Roberts told MyHighPlains.com that representatives held up that sign near the construction site just to raise awareness of these claims.
“It’s just a public awareness, trying to raise awareness to the public and trying to urge the county commissioners to do the right thing,” Roberts said. “The right thing would be to hold contractors who are refusing to pay a state-regulated prevailing wage, hold them accountable to paying that, as well as taking action upon tax fraud.”
Roberts claims that he has an “abundance of information” proving that this is happening, including paycheck stubs, as well as written statements from workers on the project.
Roberts said despite the alleged proof, the county has not acted on it. According to a wage complaint fact sheet featured on the union’s website, officials are asking the county to demand the payroll records for the contractors and subcontractors on the project, proving whether or not wage laws are being ignored, as well as overtime laws and the misclassification of workers.
“By allowing the law to be violated, the Potter County Commissioners’ Court is supporting illegal activity in our community. Wage theft and tax fraud also (hurt) all members of our community, not just construction workers and their families,” the fact sheet said. “If Potter County does nothing to enforce Texas law, then they are sending a clear message to all local and out-of-state contractors that the law does not apply to them which in turn leaves no protections for our local labor force, the honest contractors and the law-abiding citizens of Amarillo.”
Roberts said that he believes the commissioners’ court should “simply follow the law.”
“I hope that the county would enforce the laws that are already in place and that the workers on site would be compensated fairly,” Roberts said. “Also, I would hope that the public would become aware of tax fraud and wage theft and how it’s running rampant in our community on construction sites. The negative ramifications to the public are just as great even if you aren’t connected with the construction industry.”
How did Potter County and the construction company respond to the allegations?
In a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com by Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner, she said that the complaint was received by the court on May 9, alleging that the prevailing wages were not being paid to some workers on the new district courts building project.
“We have, twice, set that for a hearing on the matter but each time, the parties and their attorneys have requested that the hearing be postponed,” Tanner said. “We are currently scheduled to participate in mediation with the parties and their attorneys on July 18, which is Monday.”
Tanner went on to say that she has no idea about the legitimacy of these claims, saying that whatever the prevailing wage was is what the court authorized the company to provide. Tanner also said that she knew nothing about the allegations of tax fraud, saying that the group should contact local law enforcement.
“If they have a complaint, they came to the right place,” Tanner said. “We’ll see what we can do to make it right.”
Tanner stressed that this will not impact the status of the district courts building, which is expected to open in the spring of 2023.
A spokesperson with Adolfson & Peterson Construction told MyHighPlains.com that they are unable to comment on specific details surrounding the allegations at this time.