New York Times
SAN JUAN — The small energy outfit from Montana that won a $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico's tattered power grid had few employees of its own, so it did what the Puerto Rican authorities could have done: It turned to Florida for workers.
For their trouble, the six electrical workers from Kissimmee are earning $42 an hour, plus overtime. The senior power linemen from Lakeland are earning $63 an hour working in Puerto Rico, the Florida utility said. Their 40 co-workers from Jacksonville, also linemen, are making up to $100 earning double time, public records show.
But the Montana company that hired the workers, Whitefish Energy Holdings, had a contract that allowed it to bill the Puerto Rican public power company, known as Prepa, $319 an hour for linemen, a rate that industry experts said was far above the norm even for emergency work — and almost 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico.
Jeffrey Bartel, a former senior executive at Florida Power & Light, the third-largest utility in the United States, said markups were routine in subcontracted work, as was charging double time for emergency work.
But "even at double time, the labor cost figures are empirically questionable," Mr. Bartel said after reviewing the contract at the request of The New York Times. "Possibly most egregious is that this all takes place with a dire and desperate circumstance where people's lives are at immediate danger without power, and, therefore, there is unequal bargaining position by Puerto Rico, which allows for the possibility of price gouging."
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