REWIND 2014: Subcontractors still unpaid 15 months after Aztec hotel opens
Editor's note: The Daily Times' annual "Rewind" series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year. To read more "Rewind" stories, go to daily-times.com.
AZTEC — Fifteen months after a 70-room Wyndham hotel opened in Aztec, many of the workers who helped build the four-story structure have still not been paid in full for their work.
Approximately 30 subcontractors built Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Aztec, which opened its doors just south of historic downtown Aztec in Dillon Industrial Park, off U.S. Highway 550, on Oct. 4 last year.
Local workers were hired by Florida-based CMI, the general contractor for the project, and built the hotel from the ground up, including framing, heating, landscaping and roofing, as The Daily Times reported on Feb. 8. But final payments for labor and materials arrived in April and May of this year to only a third of the subcontractors, those who filed mechanics' and materialmen's liens against the hotel before a deadline. The contractors who missed the deadline face a total loss of any payments that were owed.
Phone messages left for CMI executives seeking comment were not returned.
Farmington attorney Dick Gerding — who was hired to mediate between subcontractors, hotel developer Sam Blue and CMI — said that the companies that filed liens within 90 days of the hotel's completion were paid. Gerding said he finished cutting checks to fewer than a dozen of the companies in May.
One of those who was paid by Gerding is Pete's Plumbing and Heating, an Aztec family business.
Shawn Witzemann, a master plumber and son of the company's founder, Pete Witzemann, said his family's experience working on the hotel was "crippling. He said his brother, who was foreman during hotel construction, moved to Denver to seek steady employment.
Witzemann said the hotel was several months behind schedule after the framing was poorly done by a subcontractor hired by CMI. Delays caused by the shoddy framing had a ripple effect that impacted the work schedules of other subcontractors.
According to Blue — who spoke in an earlier interview, but did not respond to phone messages or texts for this story — subcontractors were given as many as nine progress payments through the duration of 2013 as work progressed, but a final payment for $1.2 million' worth of work not delivered on time.
And some final payments were not for the full amount owed.
Witzemann said Pete's Plumbing's final payment was only 68 percent of the contacted amount, which was $73,541.
"We settled for 68 cents on the dollar," Witzemann said. "It was brutal. We're still feeling the effects of it. My dad's been in business for 25 years. We paid all our bills — to our suppliers, payroll for our workers. Why were we, in the end, fighting to get paid what we earned? It's about paying what you agreed to pay. You take people in good faith that you have a contract and you deliver quality work. Seems contract law only looks out for lawyers. I don't get it."
Ron Becker's Farmington family business, Medallion Heating, installed the heating and cooling systems for the hotel and, like Witzemann, had to file a lien to get a final payment, which he said is only around 60 percent of what he was owed.
Becker said Medallion, which was started by his father 40 years ago, was paid a reduced amount in April. The problem was present throughout construction, he said. Becker said he had to pull all his workers from the job site for two weeks in August because an incremental progress payment worth $50,000 was late. When it finally arrived in September, he agreed to have his workers return.
Framing delays further cost Becker. He said his business is slow between January and March and he was originally scheduled to begin installing heating and cooling systems in the hotel in February. Becker's crew ended up waiting until June, when he was busier, to start work, which meant paying employees overtime and scrambling to meet the hotel's time line.
"We paid money to do the job. I don't understand how they get away with it. We paid five or six guys overtime to get the work done. We got 60 cents on the dollar," Becker said.
Becker said the Aztec hotel is one of six projects, or 10 percent of his entire business, that he has had to file liens on in the last year to try to get paid what he is owed. "It seems to be getting more prevalent. It's pretty disturbing," Becker said. "A car dealer goes and sells a car and doesn't get paid, he can (repossess) it. No house payment, the bank evicts you. I can't do any of that. It's a really crappy deal. What can I do? I can hire an attorney at $300 an hour."
Witzemann said the delay and reduction of final payment for the hotel hurt his family's business right around the holidays and the slowest time of the year, both of which leave him bitter.
"A lot of it was personal. We put in a lot of 60- to 80-hour weeks to get that hotel open," Witzemann said. "You work your butt off and don't get paid, it just burns. You don't work for free. The subs financed that hotel. We're a plumbing company, not a bank. But that's just how we were treated."