Gouging

The United States is a country founded on idealism. We have principles and values and sacred beliefs here, and the holiest of them all is that the rich must always be rewarded many times more generously than everyone else. If the worker makes $10 an hour then by god the CEO had better make at least $1000. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington died on the battlefield to defend that glorious truth.

Like plucky little Whitefish Energy Holdings, for instance.

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.

Hey! They had to line their own pockets didn’t they?! They had to pay themselves first and most didn’t they?! This is AMERICA. Well ok it’s Puerto Rico which is obviously not AMERICA at all but hopelessly foreign, but Whitefish is AMERICA, so those rules apply.

Two weeks after Prepa abruptly withdrew the contract from Whitefish following strong criticism by federal and congressional officials of the company’s expected ability to perform the work needed, more questions are being raised about the deal, including how much it will actually cost. Whitefish will keep repairing power lines until Nov. 30.

Plenty of time for the bosses to make themselves a nice chunk of change.

At least four congressional committees are investigating. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has also begun a review of the Whitefish contract, as has the F.B.I., according to media reports.

Whitefish’s chief executive, Andy Techmanski, has called the investigations a “witch hunt.” The company said on Saturday that it had completed repair of more than 150 miles of transmission and distribution power lines.

Ah the old witch hunt ploy. It’s funny how corrupt greedy men keep grabbing that metaphor of the persecution of women.

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.”

Price gouging in emergencies is another one of those beautiful American ideals.

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