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Disputes Continue in Unpaid Workers Controversy as Negotiation Details Emerge

Posted: Jan 29, 2013 10:30 PM by Meghann Mollerus
Updated: Jan 29, 2013 11:26 PM

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COLUMBIA - The controversy surrounding construction of the Aspen Heights student housing development site either could come to end Wednesday or yield continued dispute and potential lawsuits filed against the construction site, according to former site contractor R-Energy LLC.

"Aspen Heights has promised to pay R-Energy and the laborers and vendors and suppliers tomorrow. They made that announcement to my laborers last Friday before they dispersed them (by terminating the contract with R-Energy), said Texas-based R-Energy's owner and president Tony Barder.

Barder said on Wednesday, R-Energy will reveal details of its version of the story, which came to light two weeks ago when 11 construction workers from Atlanta, Ga. claimed they responded to a Craigslist ad promising $1,000 a week and free food and lodging, in exchange for work at the Aspen Heights student housing development site in Columbia.

As details emerged, the situation soon expanded to involve three hotels, a contractor, a dozen subcontractors and an estimated 100 workers--all hired by sub-contractors under R-Energy and whom all claimed they had not been fully, if at all, paid for their work at the site.

Barder said Aspen Heights has yet to pay R-Energy all but one of the draws R-Energy is owed. These draws, Barder said, are necessary in order to compensate the laborers. He explained R-Energy had made an agreement with Aspen Heights in which Aspen must either pay the draws by Wednesday or pay the vendors, suppliers and subcontractors directly. Barder also said he already has paid tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to some of the subcontractors involved.

Aspen Heights offered KOMU 8 News a different explanation of negotiation details and whom is potentially to blame for the unpaid debts, which total a sum neither R-Energy nor Aspen Heights would disclose.

Aspen Heights's Columbia site project manager Tom Partin said Aspen is not primarily responsible for paying the workers but is helping resolve their plights.

"Obviously, within this contract, there's material and labor involved. Our main focus is dealing with the people-obviously that's associated with the labor, and that's our main focus right now. We did meet with a few of the contractors this morning, and they were very forthcoming with the information we asked for. What we're going to do this week is we're concentrating on verifying this information, and then we hope to have some resolution moving forward over the next week or two," said Partin.

Partin said he held "extremely productive" meetings with three of seven sub-contractors under R-Energy--Wilkins Development, Kapital Construction and Encisco Construction. He said as of late Tuesday, he also had made contact and scheduled meetings with two more of those contractors, whose names Partin declined to release until Wednesday. Partin said Black Sparta, the sub-contractor with whom the laborers from Atlanta claim to have been hired by, is not a direct sub-contractor under R-Energy and has not been in contact with Aspen Heights.

Encisco Construction owner Moises Encisco said he would consider trying to work for Aspen Heights again. He told KOMU 8 he believes only R-Energy is responsible for paying him and his crew of nine other men, whom he brought from Kansas City to Columbia on Dec. 28 in order to work on the site. He said his company is owed $24,000 for completed work. Encisco said in his meeting with Aspen Heights on Tuesday, Partin told him Aspen needed to calculate the percentage of work completed, as there were "some people taking advantage of the situation." Encisco said he expects to be paid by Friday or early next week.

Barder denied Encisco's claims that he had not heard from Barder since signing a contract with him and said he has been receptive to questions and concerns from all of his sub-contractors.

Both R-Energy and Aspen Heights affirmed this is the first time the two companies have worked with each other. According to Partin, Aspen Heights currently has five other projects at other universities across the nation. These projects, he said, have 20 to 30 contractors each.

Neither company indicated it would be willing conduct future projects with the other.

Aspen Heights said it still has 100 to 200 workers currently working on the site under other contractors, like the electrician. He said none of those workers includes the 50 to 100 laborers contracted under R-Energy. Partin said Aspen Heights is evaluating whether to rehire any of those laborers but affirmed the site is still on schedule to be completed by fall.

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