PAISD seeks governmental immunity in prevailing wage suit

David Yates Apr. 14, 2010, 10:00am

In February, the Southeast Texas Record reported on a suit filed by a group of electricians and their union against 10 contractors and two school districts, alleging the defendants did not follow prevailing wage laws when they paid the electricians.

Two months later, the Port Arthur Independent School District is arguing that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 479 has not shown any cause as to why the district's governmental immunity should be waived.

PAISD filed its plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter on March 15. A hearing has been slated for April 16.

In total, 16 electricians claim in 2009 they worked on the Willie Ray Smith Middle School construction project in Beaumont and the Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Sam Houston Middle School and Tyrell Elementary School projects in Port Arthur.

The electricians, whose salaries ranged from $12.50 per hour to $21 per hour, claim they were not paid the prevailing wage rates as they should have been for their work on the school projects, court papers show.

Electricians earn the prevailing wage for their work to protect "local wage standards by preventing contractors from basing their bids on wages lower than those prevailing in the area [and] giving local labor and the local contractors a fair opportunity to participate" in public-works building programs, court papers say.

In its motion to dismiss, the district asserts that the union "failed to aver any waiver of PAISD's governmental immunity from suit on any of their claims.

"Plaintiffs have the burden to plead a clear and unambiguous legislative waiver of governmental immunity from suit in order to confer jurisdiction upon this court," the motion states.

"There is no statute which clearly and unambiguously waives governmental immunity from suits on the claims asserted by plaintiffs."

In their suit, the electricians accuse PAISD and the Beaumont Independent School District of neglecting to include prevailing-wage determinations in their contracts with bidders.

On the other hand, PAISD argues the prevailing wage does not include fringe benefits whereas the electricians insist it should and does include fringe benefits.

The electricians are suing for actual, special and incidental damages and attorney's fees.

They are represented by John Werner of Reaud, Morgan and Quinn law firm.

PAISD is represented by Beaumont attorney Melody Chappell.

The plaintiffs in the case are James Doty, Kelvin L. Brown, Cornelious Thomas, Justin Brown, Dereck Hadnot, Jerry Gage, Brandon McKenney, Larry E. Lewis, Reginald Dean, Jardell Resean Elam, Adam Guillot, Stephen Rivero, Matt Faul, Herman Joseph, David R. Die Jr. and Angela Polk.

On top of BISD and PAISD, U.S. General Contractors, Prime Electrical Services, Prime Electrical WBE, Walker Electric Co., Express Services Inc., Express Employment Professionals, Frost Enterprises Inc., Healthy Resources Enterprise, Cooper Group and DSF Advance Staffing are named as defendants.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, is presiding over the case.

Case No. E185-886

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