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New barracks spur contractor pay issue

POSTED: March 26, 2011 7:00 a.m.

A subcontractor hired to build 20 barracks buildings on Fort Stewart claims the project’s prime contractor has not compensated them for payroll in the past two weeks, and therefore they cannot pay their workers and fears their company could “go under.”
Exterior Walls Inc. of Orlando was subcontracted by Archer Western Contractors, which comes under the Walsh Group, to build barracks for the new 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team complex. The $427 million project is scheduled for completion in mid-July, when Vanguard soldiers are due to return from a 12-month deployment to Iraq.
The emerging brigade complex off Georgia Highway 144 also includes a physical-fitness facility, a headquarters building and a dining facility. The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the massive construction project. 
“Nobody is telling us anything,” said James Hatfield, a former Exterior Walls Inc. foreman. “The Corps hasn’t gotten back to me; Archer Western hasn’t got back to me.” He added his employer, Exterior Walls Inc., also has not contacted him.
Hatfield said he and at least 170 other construction workers have not been paid in four weeks, not the two weeks asserted by Exterior Walls Inc. officials, and so many of them have left the job site.
“I left a job to go out there,” Hatfield said. The Long County resident said he has been in construction all his life and he felt honored to do this job, providing homes for single soldiers.
The pay issue has impacted a large number of people, Hatfield told the Courier on Monday.
“There are guys here from Orlando that can’t even get home. They’re stuck here unless they get help from home. They haven’t got their paychecks,” he said. “Everything was fine until they switched banks. They were with Bank of America and switched to another bank. Those checks started bouncing or we just didn’t get paid.”
Hatfield said officials at Archer Western told him that $1.5 million went missing. Archer Western reportedly paid its subcontractor for the work and “no one has determined where that money has gone,” according to Hatfield.
“There’s no one out there that can give us any straight answers or anything,” he said. “I know they (Exterior Walls Inc.) have a bond. Every big company does when they do a job like that.”
Ivan Moreno, director of operations for Exterior Walls Inc., put the ball for the payment snafu squarely in Archer Western’s court. Moreno told the Courier it’s a case of the “big guy abusing the little guy,” and said his company is making a legal claim for more than $2.5 million in lost
funds.
“We’ve probably lost $2 million or more now and we haven’t completed the project,” he said. “We started in May 2010 and were supposed to be done in December 2010. So the job has gone five or six months over its scheduled completion.”
Moreno said to meet the prime contractor’s demand to accelerate the project’s delayed progress, they expanded their workforce from 40 to about 200 workers. He said Exterior Walls was attempting to meet Archer Western’s demand to build 20 barracks “at one time.”
“We were only supposed to work on five buildings at a time,” Moreno said. “I’m hoping the Corps will get more involved. I think they should care more.”
The Corps, apparently, is stepping back from the payment issue.
“While we are sympathetic to the workers’ situation, this issue is between the prime contractor and the subcontractor,” said Joyce A. McDonald, corporate communications officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District.
“The Corps of Engineers has the responsibility to ensure the prime contractor meets the requirements of the contract. The prime contractor can then hire subcontractors of their choice. Paying workers becomes the responsibility of the company employing the workers,” McDonald said.
Archer Western officials did not return the Courier’s numerous calls for comment by press time Thursday.
“We’re struggling right now,” Moreno said in a weary voice. “I’m not sure what (our bond company) will be able to do. Their option is either to help us financially or to go after our assets and shut us down and fight with Archer Western on this stuff.”
He added Archer Western has brought workers in from Chicago, Ill., onto the barracks job site “instead of working all the local men that are now waiting to go back to work.”
Moreno said Exterior Walls Inc. is a small minority- and family-owned business that was established in 1998.
“This is the first job we’ve done with Archer Western,” he said.

 

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