Pipeline worker looks to go home | PostIndependent.com

Pipeline worker looks to go home

Marija B. Vader
Grand Junction Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” Matt Caldwell doesn’t want to sell his “pride and joy,” his rebuilt 1967 Ford pickup, with its 401-cubic-inch engine, newly installed Eagle crank, Eagle rods, Ross pistons, and the engine with less than 30 miles on it.

But he’ll do it to raise the money to get his family back home after a really bad experience in western Colorado.

One local attorney hopes to take the edge off the negative experience by offering free or low-cost legal advice.

Caldwell is one of the 150 U.S. Central Pipeline employees unpaid for over two weeks work laying a natural gas pipeline in Rulison. The company abruptly announced to its employees in October that the contractor, Energy Transfer Corp. (ETC) quit paying U.S. Central Pipeline, so it would not be paying the employees.

Craig attorney Patrick Owen, hired by some employees, said ETC did not pay, and because they did not pay, U.S. Central Pipeline did not make payroll.

ETC spokeswoman Vicki Granado said that ETC has paid, and the right thing for U.S. Central Pipeline to do would be to pay their employees.

Caldwell figured he is owed around $6,500.

Caldwell, his wife, Cyndi, and their children Logan and Shelby aren’t going hungry, thanks to the help of some people they’ve met here. But the bills are piling up ” the furniture they bought after moving here, their cell phone, the pickup truck Caldwell bought to work in Western Colorado, their rent.

“The light bill was due last week,” he said. “I’ve stretched as far as I could stretch.”

Caldwell figures if he sells the pickup for $4,500, he can get his family back to their home in Hot Springs, Ark.

“If it was just me, I wouldn’t worry about it. I’d sleep in my truck,” Caldwell said. “I’m beside myself. If I thought it’d do any good, I’d cry, but that’s not going to do any good.”

Caldwell quit his job in Arkansas to move to western Colorado to work on the pipeline in Rulison for $24 an hour. He lived at first with his brother in a camper in New Castle, then moved to a motel.

After being told U.S. Central Pipeline had a five-year contract, he moved his family to Grand Junction, thinking there would be stability for his family. They rented a house on Orchard Mesa.

Then, just a few months later, he and others are out of work.

Dee Guttmann is an attorney angry at their predicament.

While many vendors and suppliers have been paid, “No one has made any reach to compensate employees for their time.”

“We have people out of work, hungry and soon to be without roofs,” Guttmann said. She’s helping them because “they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s the holidays, and they have kids.”

The community has an obligation to help them because the community has benefited from the oil and gas industry being here, she said.

“We ought to take care of some of this stuff for them,” she said.

Guttmann is helping the workers by ushering them into small-claims court, a process she believes will be quickest and the least expensive for them to get their money back.

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line ” between the plaintiffs straight to the courthouse,” she said. “Let’s keep it simple.”

Some of the workers have been denied unemployment because they voluntarily left earlier jobs to take jobs with U.S. Central Pipeline, Guttmann said.

Caldwell wants to go home to Arkansas.

“At least at home, I’ve got a lot of family and friends,” Caldwell said.

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