Lawyers helping some workers caught in pipeline legal fight
Two Glenwood Springs attorneys have taken up the causes of more than 20 of the roughly 150 workers who have yet to be fully paid for work on a pipeline project between Rulison and Parachute.
Working separately, Ted Hess is representing 13 U.S. Central Pipeline workers and Sandy Karp nine other workers. Karp said he is looking into “whether or not there’s any liability on the part of the various companies that were involved in the pipeline” and considering a possible class action lawsuit.
Hess has filed a demand for payment for four weeks of work from U.S. Central Pipeline under
Colorado’s Wage Claim Act.
Hess said he is examining the possibility of a lawsuit against that company and is trying to figure out if he can successfully file a mechanic’s lien on the pipeline project. That action would target ETC Canyon Pipeline, LLC, which contracted to have U.S. Central Pipeline build the 14-mile natural gas conduit.
Such a lien action by workers would be unusual, Hess said, but he hopes it might be viable under a state law that allows some use of such liens by employees in the case of oil and gas facilities.
However, it’s unclear if the law applies in the case of gas pipelines.
Also in question is whether U.S. Central Pipeline has any assets left to pay workers if attorneys take action in court against that company. Company officials say they want to pay workers but the company faces possible bankruptcy after not being paid by ETC.
“What do you do when somebody owes you $3 million and doesn’t pay you?” said Richard Longtin, company foreman and the brother of company president Joe Longtin.
U.S. Central Pipeline has filed a $2.7 million lien and a breach of contract claim against ETC.
But ETC contends it already has paid more than it owed under its contract with U.S. Central Pipeline. A local attorney for Texas-based Energy Transfer Co., ETC’s parent company, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The two companies are seeking resolution to their contract dispute in court cases in Colorado and Texas. In the meantime, Hess said, the failure to pay wages has imposed a serious hardship on workers.
“I guess my reaction is, gosh, how can this happen in this day and age?” Hess said. “Neither of these companies is acting quickly enough to see to it that these guys get paid.”