Down the Drain: Local plumbers file lawsuit against WWTA
Story by Antwan Harris
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- A program that was designed to help area businesses may be doing the exact opposite.
The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority Board is under a lot of pressure after a lawsuit is filed against it.
The suit, filed by Roto-Rooter, claims under the WWTA Program, local plumbers are losing business.
It also accuses the program of not paying workers the amount promised.
This legal action has led to other plumbing companies jumping on board.
Lawyers for Roto-Rooter claim this 3-million dollar lawsuit is just the beginning of exposing business practices that hurt plumbers.
On the other hand, one business on the program says, it's kept their business flowing.
A 21-page lawsuit, heavily detailed, criticizes the WWTA line inspection program.
Jerry Tidwell, the attorney representing Roto-Rooter, says the company pulled out of the program after it was cut short on customers and performing costly repairs for a minimal price.
The lawsuit states Roto-Rooter performed a near $7,000 job, yet was only paid $1,200 by WWTA.
"What my client has told me, and other plumbers, is that we can't pay for the equipment and the men," says Attorney Jerry Tidwell. "They are only doing it to keep their workers working."
The downturn in the economy hurt several plumbers, which is one reason Gene Shipley signed on to the program.
He says WWTA has negotiated better pay rates for plumbers and in spite of others' complaints, he's seen his company turn around.
"I think under the new money the plumbers have received, it will give them the opportunity to see some profit," says Shipley.
The lawsuit alleges WWTA has damaged Roto-Rooter economically, and the fee structure is below industry standards.
Channel 3 was told the pricing is based off national averages.
"You're taking far less money than what you would be able to take in the open market, you have to hope to get some work, and even if you do, it won't be profitable," says Tidwell.
Since its inception nearly two years ago, the program has lost about half its companies, but Shipley says he is proof the program works.
"It was the consensus of the plumbing group we would give this a chance and make it work and get something done to keep it local," says Shipley.
No one from the WWTA was available for comment and the 3-million dollars is considered "lost profit" according to Tidwell.
Eyewitness News will let you know when a court date has been set.