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Monday, November 13, 2017

Florida linemen earned $63 an hour while Whitefish charged Puerto Rico $319 an hour

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 at 11:08 AM

The two-person Montana firm that was awarded a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's devastated electrical infrastructure is under scrutiny again after a New York Times report showed it was charging the island's state-run utility $319 an hour per lineman but paying Florida workers it hired much less.

The Times reports Whitefish Energy Holding's contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) allowed it to charge at a rate that was "almost 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico" while paying electrical workers from Kissimmee $42 per hour plus overtime. Linemen from Lakeland were paid $63 an hour, while workers from Jacksonville earned up to $100 in double time. 

"Simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish’s overhead costs," a spokesperson for the company told the Times. "We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work."

Hurricane Maria left the 3.4 million people who live on the U.S. territory without power, and weeks later, thousands still don't have electricity. Last month, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló canceled the energy contract with Whitefish after it came under scrutiny by federal officials. Whitefish will keep working in Puerto Rico repairing lines until the end of November, according to the Times.

"It is concerning that the arduous task of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s energy grid post Hurricane Maria – the biggest infrastructural rebuild in the United States since Hurricane Katrina – is being contracted to a small, inexperienced firm with ties to the Trump Administration," U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said in a statement last month when he urged for an investigation into the contract.

Read the rest of the New York Times story here.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the rate Whitefish was charging Puerto Rico’s state-run utility. 

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