Whitefish charged Puerto Rico unusually high $300 per hour for workers

Sergio Conner
November 14, 2017

Industry experts are saying the charges are far above the norm even for emergency work and nearly 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico. He also said that the cost for labor is higher because of where the job is located, which accounts for the markup in the contract with the power company, generally called Prepa. "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", Chiames said, adding that many workers are being paid overtime.

Puerto Rico?s governor Ricardo Rosselló laid out a timetable last month that said 50% of power on the island would be restored by Wednesday, and that the month after would see that figure jump to 95%.

According to the report, Whitefish, which doesn't have many employees of its own, hired electrical workers from Florida to do the work.

The language in the contract could prevent federal oversight of the work and the value of the contract, which the Puerto Rican government has since withdrawn, suggesting massive overcharges by Whitefish, The New York Times reported Tuesday. But some energy experts disagreed that the rates were reasonable. Their 40 co-workers from Jacksonville, also linemen, are making up to $100 earning double time, public records show. The Cobra contract was signed just a few days after the Whitefish contract, and PREPA put down a $15 million deposit to start work on the grid, even though the contract didn't go through a bidding process.

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Whitefish also charged $412 per worker per day for food and lodging. Ryan Zinke's hometown landed such a lucrative, no-bid contract. Hurricane Maria left the 3.4 million people who live on the US territory without power, and weeks later, thousands still don't have electricity.

Reports have said that FBI is investigating the deal, though the New York Times reported details of its arrangement for the first time on Sunday night. Zinke and the company's chief executive both hail from the same Montana town, and Zinke's son worked for Whitefish last summer, according to the Times. The Army Corps of Engineers reportedly avoided hiring Whitefish because it charged twice as much as it should have.

Almost 500 more people died in Puerto Rico this September than a year earlier, according to regional authorities, though officials refused to blame those deaths to Maria.

Keep in mind that there were no "market prices" for this type of storm work on an island that had virtually no power and no external communications, and whose access roads and transportation infrastructure were destroyed.

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