Wage investigators visit Fire Island contractors

Large piles of debris still sit on the Large piles of debris still sit on the front lawns of some of the homes in Ocean Beach before a major FEMA/Army Corps of Engineers debris clean-up of Fire Island. (Jan. 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor visited Fire Island Wednesday to investigate superstorm Sandy cleanup contractors and make sure workers are being adequately compensated, an agency spokesman said.

The department's Wage and Hour Division is trying to verify whether companies paid to complete a post-Sandy debris cleanup on the barrier island are complying with the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act, which "requires contractors and subcontractors performing services on Federal prime contracts in excess of $2,500 to pay service employees in various classes" no less than the local prevailing wage.

"We want to make certain that employees performing this important work are properly compensated for their labors," spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said in an email. He said the investigation was not prompted by a complaint.

But the labor department's presence on Fire Island, where roughly 400 workers are helping complete the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' debris removal project by a March 31 deadline, came a day after workers and advocates publicly complained that contractors were underpaying laborers in the $10.1 million project.

At a news conference outside a subcontractor's office in Central Islip on Tuesday, Long Island Jobs With Justice, Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) and activists for low income and immigrant communities blasted DS3 Enterprises Inc. and Coastal Environmental Group, claiming the projects' lead subcontractors have been paying workers significantly less than promised.

"Many people report that they were paid by checks that bounced," Ramos said Tuesday. "Aside from that, they were contracted at a certain salary, and in the end the company ended up paying them a lesser salary."

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Positions for general laborers were initially advertised at $18.02 per hour plus $3.71 for health and welfare, but on Tuesday DS3 Enterprises announced that the rate for laborers would be $12.64 per hour plus $3.71 for health and welfare.

A representative from DS3 and Coastal Environmental said he was unaware of the advertised higher wage.

Samuel Bartlett, a laborer from Brentwood, said that when he was hired, he was told he would be paid at least $18 per hour. This week, he said he learned his base pay will be about $12 per hour.

California-based Environmental Chemical Corp. won the contract for the project to remove roughly 9,000 tons of debris from the island in late February after a flurry of protests during the bidding process. They then hired Coastal Environmental Group.

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