Six construction workers who helped assemble the steeple-shaped roof on a new Prince William County library are claiming that they were paid as little as $200 apiece for four weeks of labor.
Their lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, claims that the workers were stiffed by a firm hired by a subcontractor that reported to the company overseeing the library construction for the county.
Labor lawyers say the allegations are not unusual in an industry that is rife with those types of complicated hiring arrangements — in which subcontractors hire other companies who, in many cases, hire laborers off the books.
“It is a wonderful thing for a county to build a public library,” Virginia Diamond, the workers’ attorney, said about the 200,000-square-foot facility in Dumfries, Va., that voters approved in 2006 through a $13.8 million bond referendum. “But it casts shame on the community when people are working hard to build it and they’re not getting paid.”
The library’s story began simply enough.
Prince William officials awarded the construction project to KBE Building, a Connecticut-based company that has built office towers, schools and other large projects across the Mid-Atlantic.
KBE brought in Evans Construction Services, a Chantilly, Va.-based subcontractor. That company, in turn, hired Lopez Family Enterprises to help with the roof.
From there, the details become complicated.
In their lawsuit, the six workers seek a total of $16,290 in allegedly unpaid wages from Evans Construction Services, contending that, even though Lopez Family Enterprises hired them, they were technically employed by Evans. The company disputes that contention.
“They’re going after the wrong guy,” owner Billy Evans said.
The workers claim that they were promised between $20 and $35 an hour by Lopez to help assemble the library roof’s wood frame.
After working 54 hours a week for four weeks in June, the lawsuit says, four of the workers were paid $200 in cash. The other two were handed $300.
Pablo Lopez, the man who hired them, then cut off contact, the workers allege.
The workers say that they complained to Evans Construction Services, and a supervisor there ordered them to turn in their equipment and never come back.
The workers then sought help from Prince William officials, who steered them back to Lopez Family Enterprises, according to letters provided by the county.
Prince William spokesman Jason Grant said there is nothing more the county can do.
“The county cannot make payments to them,” he said. “We pay the general contractor for completed work.”
The library project is KBE’s first project for Prince William, Grant said. County officials said they don’t know whether the other two companies have ever worked on county jobs, but they said that they aren’t aware of other labor complaints connected to either firm.
A KBE spokeswoman declined to comment on the allegations because the company is not a party to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the two subcontractors blame each other for the lack of payment.
Evans said he initially paid Lopez Family Enterprises $12,000. The Lopez company would have received an additional $48,000 under its agreement with Evans, he added, but didn’t get it because it didn’t finish the job.
“I lived up to my obligation,” Evans said. “I already paid it once.”
Dan Lopez, who is Pablo Lopez’s father, confirmed that his company received $12,000 and hired the workers. But he denied responsibility for the unpaid wages.
Much of the $12,000 was used to pay for supplies that were supposed to be furnished by Evans, Lopez said, adding that he was not reimbursed. Evans denied he agreed to that.
“Those guys, Evans, they’re pretty slick,” Lopez said, adding that he paid the workers what he could with what was left over from the original $12,000. “In the meantime, the workers are all innocent. They worked hard.”
While the dispute continues, county officials are preparing for a library grand opening in early October — a deadline that another crew of workers at the site is rushing to meet.
When it’s finished, the building that is meant to be a public triumph will instead stand as a sour reminder of frustration, the workers say.
“This has destabilized me economically,” said Carlos Vasquez, one of the plaintiffs, calculating that he is owed nearly $4,000 in unpaid wages. “This has nothing to do with the quality of my work.”