From the Arkansas Times:
by David Koon
The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, which is representing a subcontractor from Northwest Arkansas, claims that Arkansas Sen. Jake Files (R- Fort Smith) owes the subcontractor they represent almost $10,000 for roofing work done for Files' construction company, FFH Construction. After many attempts to reach Files, they say, he still hasn't paid.
Files is the chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, and has been in the Senate since 2011.
Alex Canales, who owns roofing and construction company RG Construction, claims to have subcontracted with FFH to roof a building. Canales claims that himself and a crew of four workers spent roughly a month on the job, using materials purchased by FFH. Canales claims Files did pay him $2,090 for the job in the last week of November, but says FFH still owes him around $10,000. Canales said he's been trying to reach Files since November, and that Files has stopped taking his calls.
The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, a Springdale-based non-profit which lobbies and provides assistance on behalf of low-income and immigrant workers, reached out Files to see if they could help resolve the issue. When that didn't produce results, the group came to the Arkansas State Capitol with Canales in tow a few weeks back to see if they could locate and speak to Files during the session.
Fernando Garcia, a caseworker with the Worker's Justice Center. said that during that trip to the Capitol, they tried to have Files paged in the Senate and sent notes for Files into the Senate chamber twice, but he never came out to speak with them. When they checked back later, Garcia said, they were told that Files had left for the day.
Garcia said they had previously sent a letter to FFH Construction, and had been in touch with a person who identified himself as a general manager with the company. As of Friday, Feb. 3, Garcia said Canales hadn't received payment or been contacted by either Files or a representative of FFH to talk about the issue.
Contacted by Arkansas Times, Files said he didn't know anyone named Alex Canales, and didn't recall receiving notes from anyone by that name during the session. Files said he has a subcontractor who has hired roofing crews for FFH jobs in the past.
"It's a little strange," Files said. "I don't even know. It sounds like a misunderstanding and I don't know that it's newsworthy. I get that you've got things to print but I don't know anything about it. So I'll do some digging to see what I can find out."
A short while later, Files called back to say that an employee he worked with had hired roofing crews in the past. though Files himself "didn't even interface with them." Files said the subcontractor he contacted had "used a guy named Alex before, but he didn't know his last name and I've never seen the name. So I don't know what the end of it is. I'll try to get a number and try to get in touch with him and go from there. As far as I know, I don't owe him any money."
"I may have written checks to some but a lot of them I wrote to [the FFH subcontractor] and he paid them on from there," Files said. "I have heard the name RG Construction but I didn't know who it is associated with and I didn't know that we possibly owed them any money."
Garcia said that number one issue the NWA Worker's Justice Center receives complaints about is wage theft. "In the construction industry, it's very common," he said. "I think it's because there's a lot of confusion between the General Contractor, who can hire a subcontractor, who might hire another subcontractor along the way as well. What we've heard is: 'Well, I can't pay because I haven't been paid by the person who hired me.' Then we talk to them, and it's: 'I already paid them. I don't know why they're not paying you.' It can get a little confusing when there's a lot of subcontracting going on."
Asked if he believes Files is actively dodging Canales to avoid paying him, Garcia said: "I'm sure his general manager told him what was going on. We've sent a letter to the company and we've had a little contact with the general manager. It wouldn't surprise me if he passed on the info to the Senator."
Read more from the Arkansas Times.