Suit: National Grid workers shortchanged for Sandy work

National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely blocked in Lattingtown so LIPA will be able to access power lines in the area. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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National Grid employees, including thousands who worked hundreds of hours each restoring electric service following superstorm Sandy, have filed a class-action suit saying the company's malfunctioning new payroll system has drastically shortchanged their paychecks.

The suit, filed in Eastern District Court in Brooklyn, charges that the company paid workers for a maximum of 40 hours, even though many worked double that amount.

The workers typically worked more than 10 hours in one day, "but were not paid one hour of bonus pay and the overtime rate for each day they worked more than ten hours," the suit says.

Arthur Schwartz, a New York attorney who filed the case on behalf of six National Grid unionized employees, estimated the underpayments to employees were around $3 million a week over the three weeks that the system has been malfunctioning. He also estimates the company could be subject to a 25 percent penalty for at least $9 million in lost wages.

"We were facing a situation where people were saying they didn't want to work anymore, and the union said, 'File suit,' " said Schwartz, referring to Transportation Workers Union of America Local 101 and its president Michael Conigliaro.

In a statement, National Grid said it "takes the timely and accurate compensation of its employees very seriously. We are quickly addressing the automated payroll issue that has surfaced recently, affecting a subset of our employees."

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National Grid operates the Long Island electric grid under a contract with the Long Island Power Authority.

Don Daley, business manager for Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the situation is far worse. "These guys and gals are working 16 hours a day, and at the end of the week the payroll may be anything from zero to whatever," he said.

It's not just salary and overtime that are being shortchanged by the system, Daley said. Expenses such as meals and driving costs are also being underpaid, he said. The problem, said Daley, is that the company implemented the new payroll and broader financial system "right in the middle of a hurricane."

"I'm sure they're working hard on it," he said of the company's efforts to fix it, "but the bottom line is they are not getting the correct amount back to the employees," who have endured long hours in hazardous working conditions.The union has filed complaints with the New York State Department of Labor, and "we have had a discussion with the attorney general," Daley said.

One worker said the glitch has crippled his home finances. He said he worked 70 hours and got paid for working eight hours.

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"People are really upset," he said of the thousands of workers affected. "They've had to reschedule mortgage payments, and cancel vacations . . . They owe me more than $7,000."

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