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Contractor explains pay for Fire Island Sandy workers

Debris from damage caused by superstorm Sandy is

Debris from damage caused by superstorm Sandy is piled high near the dock at Davis Park on Fire Island. (March 5, 2013) Credit: Newsdsay / John Paraskevas

After days of fielding complaints from politicians and activists about the pay for workers on a post-Sandy Fire Island debris cleanup, the lead subcontractor on the project says it is working to clear up misunderstandings about the pay rate.

Workers who have been removing debris as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' project lined up for their paychecks at lead subcontractor Coastal Environmental Group and DS3 Enterprises' Central Islip offices Thursday, many concerned that they were being paid a lower rate than had been promised.

Stephanie Lane, a laborer from Flanders, said she was paid at the rate of $12.64 an hour when she expected to make $21 with benefits.

Charlie Smithers, project manager for Coastal Environmental, said the higher rate was valid before the Army Corps withdrew the cleanup contract award from DS3 because of a protest.

DS3 Enterprises originally won the bid for the debris cleanup project Jan. 25, for $8.8 million, and named Coastal Environmental as its main subcontractor.

Initially, DS3 offered laborers $18.02 per hour plus benefits of $3.71, based on prevailing wage in Suffolk County, Smithers said.

When California-based Environmental Chemical Corp. was awarded the job for $10.1 million on Feb. 27, that contract reflected the Northeast region of the United States' prevailing wage, $12.64 plus $3.71 for benefits, because ECC is the Corps' preapproved primary contractor for the region, Smithers said.

After ECC retained Coastal, Coastal called the workers who had applied in January and brought them in at the earlier, higher wage. Workers were informed this month, Smithers said, that the new contract wage was lower.

"If you've been working since before March 10, you get the old wage," Smithers said. But a large group of workers who applied when the old wage was valid but started work after March 10 were surprised when they got their paychecks, he said.

Smithers said because of the confusion, workers were encouraged to pick up their checks at DS3 Enterprises and Coastal Environmental's Central Islip offices so payment issues could be explained and rectified. "We're getting systems in place now that the project is ramping down," Smithers said.

Charlene Obernauer, executive director for Long Island Jobs With Justice, was skeptical of Smithers' explanation. "I think that regardless of that issue there are definitely some issues with the paychecks people are receiving . . . I just don't think they really have their act together on these projects," Obernauer said.

The cleanup is expected to wrap up Sunday.

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