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U.S. Labor Dept. recovers $14.3 million for hurricane recovery workers in Puerto Rico, USVI

By on September 25, 2018

SAN JUAN – In the year since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has recovered more than $14.3 million in unpaid wages for 7,761 employees engaged in recovery work in the island’s, according to a department release issued Tuesday.

The WHD said it has also undertaken outreach activities to educate employers and employees about compliance with federal wage laws, as part of its hurricane response efforts.

Following the hurricanes, WHD began an education and enforcement initiative providing information to employers and workers via social media, and by conducting outreach. Its investigations focused on compliance during short-term emergency response operations funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “to ensure employers were aware of their responsibilities and employees were paid.”

The investigations “examined coverage under and employers’ compliance” with the Service Contract Act (SCA), Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (CWHSSA), Davis Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The investigators found such violations as “non-payment of wages, minimum wage and overtime violations resulting from employees being misclassified as independent contractors, and failure to pay required health and welfare benefits under the SCA.”

WHD said it conducted more than 60 outreach events; signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor and its Office of the Comptroller to “better coordinate enforcement and outreach efforts”; and hosted a “prevailing wage” seminar to educate contractors, government agencies and other stakeholders about compliance with applicable laws.

The agency added it will continue its efforts in fiscal  2019 “as the focus shifts from disaster response to long-term recovery. This will include outreach to non-federal agencies that will oversee the expenditure of Community Development Block Grants” in public works projects.

“The U.S. Department of Labor continues its commitment to the recovery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to ensure that employees performing hurricane recovery work receive the wages and benefits they have legally earned and that employers adhere to the law,” WHD Regional Administrator Mark Watson Jr. said.

“Our combination of enforcement, education, and outreach provides employers and employees with the information and the tools they need not only to identify and rectify violations but to prevent them from occurring in the first place,” said WHD Caribbean District Director José R. Vázquez. “Our efforts ensure employees are paid what they have earned.”

Employees, employers, stakeholders, and other interested parties who wish to obtain compliance information, meet with a WHD representative, have questions or concerns addressed or file a complaint, should contact WHD’s Caribbean District Office at 787-775-1947 or 1-866-4-USWAGE, or by email. All contacts are confidential.

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