Labor group demands more records in lawsuit against San Jose
The San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility. Photo courtesy of Mauricio Velarde.

    A labor organization suing San Jose for public records has expanded its suit. It wants to determine if the city singled out a compliance director for trying to get information about a public works project.

    The South Bay Piping Industry Labor Management Trust filed an amended lawsuit last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The original suit filed in September seeks records related to an upgrade at the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility.

    Compliance Director Mauricio Velarde repeatedly sought evidence of illegal labor practices at the site through Public Records Act requests. The trust sued San Jose to get the city to comply with four requests filed over the past two years.

    A request not mentioned in the original complaint pertains to communications between San Jose, local unions and the project contractor, Walsh Construction, as it relates to Velarde. The trust wants this information to determine why the city was not more cooperative.

    The trust added this request to its amended lawsuit, citing the city’s continued refusal to turn over other records.

    “We now want to look at why Mauricio is being singled out, and what are the conversations the city and vendors are having about him,” Tomas Margain, the trust’s attorney, told San José Spotlight.

    Velarde has spent years asking the city for records about why the project isn’t being built to its original specifications and why Walsh Construction appears to be using subcontractors who aren’t listed on the original bid.

    San Jose hired Walsh Construction in 2016 to complete a project at the facility known as the Digester and Thickener Facilities Upgrade. The original price tag—$107.9 million—has almost doubled over the years due to additional work and delays. Earlier this year, the San Jose City Council approved $14 million for new construction costs.

    Velarde wants more information about the subcontractors who have worked on the project. He has already learned Walsh hired at least one subcontractor not licensed by the state and another that claimed exemption from workers’ compensation insurance even though it reported employees on its certified payroll records.

    “They won’t give us the documents to investigate it, and they certainly aren’t investigating it,” Velarde told San José Spotlight.

    Velarde also was instrumental in addressing wage theft and safety violations at an emergency housing site in San Jose earlier this year. Last month, the city announced it was expanding its investigation of illegal labor practices at multiple housing sites worked on by subcontractors for Habitat for Humanity. As of November, the city is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution for affected workers.

    The San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility is the largest wastewater treatment facility in the Western U.S., covering 2,600 acres in the South Bay and serving more than 1.4 million residents in eight local cities and unincorporated Santa Clara County.

    City Attorney Nora Frimann did not respond to a request for comment.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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