Probe sought into Fire Island cleanup pay

Debris from superstorm Sandy sits in front of Debris from superstorm Sandy sits in front of a home in Ocean Beach, NY. (Feb. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday Ed Betz

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Workers' advocates alleging wage violations on a post-Sandy Fire Island debris removal job Monday called on state and federal officials to investigate and exercise stronger oversight of Sandy recovery contracts.

"I want to say to these contractors: Stay out of our communities if you're going to abuse our people," Lenny Tucker, president of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens, said at a Central Islip protest.

A spokesman from the state labor department referred questions to the federal labor department, which did not respond to requests for comment. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor visited the site last week when workers and advocates alleged that subcontractors DS3 Enterprises and Costal Environmental Group underpaid or failed to pay some of the 400 workers hired to remove 9,000 tons of debris from the island.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded in February the $10.1 million contract to California-based Environmental Chemical Corp. The project was completed Sunday.

In addition to a statewide Sandy task force to expedite investigations, advocates from Long Island Jobs with Justice and Make the Road New York requested a seven-day comment period for community input on Sandy contracts and a requirement that all workers be from Long Island. Advocates said because of understaffing at the state labor department, investigations can take up to two years.

Charlie Smithers, project manager for Coastal Environmental, said the company has rectified its workers' pay issues, which he said were caused, in part, by wage changes based on federal rules.

The jobs were first advertised at a higher wage under a previously awarded contract, but pay rates were lowered when Environmental Corp. ultimately won the contested contract, because the company is a preapproved contractor for the Army Corps with a lower prevailing wage scale.

"If we can figure out if we made a mistake when we paid these guys, we're going to make it right," Smithers said. "It's not like we're conniving to cheat someone out of pay. Those guys and gals worked hard over there under some pretty tough conditions, and we're proud of the work they did."

Gregory Jones said he worked 46 hours over five days in late March -- but was paid for 21 hours.

"I was told the job paid $16.35 an hour," said Jones, 50, of Bellport, who said he cleared debris for up to 12 hours a day. "When I saw it on my pay stub, it said $12 and change. When I do wrong, I go to jail. These people get away with it."

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