AUBURN — A federal judge has given a Texas mechanic who sued the company that hired him to work on restoring a vintage airplane here the OK to invite other mechanics to join his lawsuit.

Christopher Venegas, 45, of Wichita Falls, came to Maine two years ago to work as an air frame mechanic at a hanger at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.

He was hired by Global Aircraft Service Inc. of Addison, Texas, which controlled with Lufthansa Technik North America Holding Corp. of Tulsa the restoration of the Star of Tigris, a version of the Lockheed Constellation known as a Starliner, Lufthansa Airline’s flagship aircraft from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Venegas claims in his complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, that he was paid straight time for all hours worked, including those in excess of 40 per week. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must be paid overtime wages at a rate of time-and-a-half for any hours exceeding 40 per week, according to the complaint.

Venegas and most of the other dozens of workers on the project, were paid only straight time despite working 63.5-hour weeks on average, as required by the companies, according to the complaint.

U.S. Chief District Judge Nancy Torresen granted Venegas’ motion on Feb. 5 to certify the suit as a collective action, meaning other similarly situated metal workers who worked on the aircraft between June 24, 2011, and Feb. 5 could join his lawsuit under a so-called “opt-in” clause.

Torresen also ordered Venegas’ former employer to provide the names and contact information of those other workers to Venegas’ attorneys in an effort to ensure that all of the workers who want to be included can participate. A notice of Venegas’ claim and that option for other workers must be posted at the job site, Torresen ruled.

Nicholas Woodfield, Venegas’ attorney with The Employment Law Group in Washington, D.C., said he believes there are between 50 and 130 others who participated in the project as sheet metal workers who could potentially join Venegas’ complaint.

If the case were to proceed to trial, at issue would be whether Venegas and other similar workers qualified as employees, as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act, or were independent contractors, as the defendants claim.

A call to Lufthansa was not returned Monday.

Venegas, who was married with four children, moved to Maine in February 2013 where he was housed in a local apartment by the company. He was ordered to wear a company-supplied T-shirt and company email addresses for work-related correspondence, according to court papers. The company didn’t withhold Social Security or taxes from his paychecks.

Venegas said Monday in a telephone interview from Texas that he was intrigued by the unusual project after working 19 years as an aircraft mechanic, for major aircraft companies and maintenance facilities.

“I signed on to the project because I saw an opportunity to do something unique,” he said, “trying to bring history back.”

In Auburn, he worked on the restoration of the air frame of the wings and the fuselage, he said.

“I’m obviously sad about not being able to complete … what I actually set out to do,” Venegas said. “And that was to … watch it fly away. That’s the most exciting feeling.”

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