News Wrap: DOL Wage Enforcement Question; Industry Forum Sought; PANYNJ Okays Rebuilding Funds
Will Sandy Work Trigger More DOL Site Visits?
The New York state Dept. of Labor (DOL) says it has no specific plans related to ramping up inspection activities this fall. But that does not convince some industry professionals who contend that contractors will likely encounter more DOL officers showing up at their sites to enforce prevailing wage rules. They say this will especially be the case beginning in late summer or early fall when the public sector prepares to offer more Superstorm Sandy reconstruction work.
Given the high-profile nature of the post-Sandy work and the government source of funding, contractors in the tristate region should be prepared for DOL to have a "heightened vigilance against cheating" and take a zero-tolerance approach in prosecuting violators, says Eric Su, a partner at New York-based law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP.
Su says workers at sites can expect to be questioned on whether they are aware that the job is a public project and on whether they know their hourly wage. Wrong answers will be a red flag and trigger an investigation, Su says.
Officers will also check to see that all mandatory wage schedules and public work notices are posted by every contractor on the project, not just the GC, he says. Failure of any party to post the proper notices in plain sight for workers is a violation that snags a lot of firms, he adds.
"Based on our experience, nine out of 10 contractors don't have the proper notices posted, and the GCs don't know that each of their subcontractors must have separate notices posted for their workers," Su says.
The aim is to ensure that government funds are being put to proper use and that firms are not violating prevailing wage laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws, Su says.
Some union contractor associations say they would welcome increased scrutiny. Jack Kocsis Jr., COO of the New Jersey chapters of both the Building Contractors Association and the Associated General Contractors, says his groups have met with state DOL and Dept. of Community Affairs officials to push for prevailing wage rule enforcement. "It's in our best interest to make sure everybody's playing by the same rules," he says. New Jersey, he adds, has some of the strongest prevailing wage laws nationwide.
"We're more concerned that the local public agencies that this money is flowing to are adhering to the public bidding laws," Kocsis says.
Chris White, a NYS DOL spokesman, said in a statement that the agency recognizes the need to be vigilant in times of natural disasters and that "we allocate staff resources as needed in order to protect against instances of fraud and abuse."
Sandy Volunteer Group Seeks Industry Forum
After Superstorm Sandy, many homeowners were confused over which groups, including industry and volunteers, would do work on their devastated homes and over the nature of the specific work to be conducted (see p. 14). The nonprofit World Cares Center (WCC), New York, is seeking to avoid such a situation should another disaster strike. It is calling for industry and volunteer groups to meet to discuss lessons learned.
"If someone were walking into my home, I would know what they were doing. I would know if they were removing items or if they were ripping out walls or if they had sprayed my home to kill mold," says Lisa Orloff, founder and executive director of WCC, which trained and deployed volunteers to conduct "muck outs" and mold remediation after the storm. "But a lot of homeowners never asked that question, so they don't know where the volunteers left off. They don't know the status of their homes."
WCC is calling for the city, construction contractors and volunteer groups to form a coalition to discuss lessons learned, to help educate the public and to better coordinate disaster response efforts.
One industry supporter of such a forum is Charles Avolio, vice president and operations manager of Turner Construction Co. and a member of the WCC board of directors. Like fellow staffers, Avolio volunteered his time with the group after Sandy and says he sees the benefit of coordinating efforts.
Orloff adds, "We all did what we could, but now it is time for us to sit in one room. My fear is that if we don't learn, we'll make the same mistakes."
New York and New Jersey
Port Authority Green-Lights Rebuilding Funds
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) has approved $59 million for enhanced storm mitigation and recovery measures, part of the agency's $450-million, Sandy-related plan to repair and upgrade its facilities ahead of the hurricane season that begins this month.
Of the $59 million, $21 million will go to PATH during the next six months for pump installations, watertight doors, flood barriers and other equipment. Some $5.5 million is earmarked for enhanced protection of the World Trade Center (WTC) construction site, including water intrusion barriers. Another $32 million will be used for preventative measures at other agency facilities including those at seaports, airports, tunnels and bridges.
Earlier this year the agency approved $210 million for Sandy recovery and cleanup, and $181 million for recovery work at WTC, where floodwaters destroyed much of the underground electrical and mechanical systems.
The storm caused $2 billion in damages to PANYNJ facilities, including those at seaports, tunnels, bridges and airports.