Archive for pay

Shallow Thoughts: What are our service members worth?

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

Today's Shallow Thought:

I listened as the TV news dee jay told me how relieved members of our military are that their paychecks won't be delayed, now that a government shutdown has been averted.  I listened as the news dee jay reminded me that many of those same people would have been in real trouble if they would have had to wait even an extra week or two, because they're strapped, and wouldn't have been able to afford food, rent, or house payments.

And then I wondered why our military has to fret and hand wring about that when private contractors get paid so handsomely for their work. And I wondered why we don't pay our service members more, so that if they were to have to endure a shutdown, they could be less concerned than they were this week.

And maybe we'd even recruit more men and women if they knew that, you know, they would be more amply rewarded for their hard work and bravery.

Then I had to stop listening to the TV news dee jay, because my blood pressure was undoubtedly rising to unsafe levels.

That was today's Shallow Thought. Thank you for wading in.

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

Why BP doesn't let you see the toxic waste

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

Photo via

The following comes via my BP whistleblower source boricua1968. He provided me with all kinds of details about Gulf laborers being given false safety certification, disregard for clean-up workers' safety, cutting corners, etc. You can find my piece here.

I discussed that particular post today on the Nicole Sandler radio show, mentioning that I'd posted a video about how the toxic sludge collected from the Gulf beaches were heavily guarded and kept secret. Apparently boricua1968 was listening.

Today he e-mailed me with this:

BP gets fined by the Government on how much oil is spilled minus the amount recovered.  There were times when the workers would take ‘absorbent’ boom off of the beaches and waterways that were just dirty (not necessarily contaminated with petroleum) and that gets weighed and disposed of in the same decon as the oil…that weight increases the amount of ‘recovery’ even if there was no oil on it.  If you were allowed to see inside the waste area, you would see that there is lots of waste with no oil…you cannot see that.

That answers that.

All my podcasts can be found here.

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

TPC Exclusive! Oil disaster whistleblower's VIDEO: After Deepwater Horizon fire, were sharks feeding on bodies?

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

Here I was, minding my own bloggy little beeswax, when out of the blue, I got an e-mail from someone who will be referred to as "boricua1968". He was a safety officer for the BP oil disaster clean-up operations and has quite a story to tell.

He provided me with documentation of everything he chronicled to me, but unfortunately, it's too much to post here. Trust me when I tell you there are pages and pages of forms, photos, slide shows, certificates, you name it.

Boricua1968 actually taught the training class that Barkway, another excellent source of mine, has referred to. He found me via The Google:

I just googled ‘fake HAZWOPER certificates’ to see if anybody had done a story about it and your blog was one of the results.  I agreed with what you had already written and decided to reach out to you.

I will now let him do the talking:

I can provide proof of fake HAZWOPER certificates and e-mails from my company regarding our loss of per diem and reduction in wages if you would like to see them.

I was a Safety Officer for the spill cleanup operations at Port Fourchon, LA and for boom operations and cleanup stationed on a barge in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet off of Hopedale, LA. Like one of your readers stated, the smart people left when the pay reductions came around.  I left for that reason and the inability to procure safety equipment for the workers.

I was a Lead Safety Officer at Port Fourchon, LA operations and on a barge with a boom maintenance flotilla out of Hopedale, LA.  Out of at least 500 laborers that I oversaw, very few actually knew how to don PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as a Tyvek suit (one of the most basic PPE’s for this line of work) yet every single one of them claimed to hold HAZWOPER certifications.  The majority of them were Hispanic workers hired by a staffing agency called ‘The Tamara Group’ which is contracted to a company called ‘Oil Mop’.  On the barge, hardly anybody even knew what a Tyvek suit was much less how to put it on to protect themselves properly.  (This ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ is a substantial part of HAZWOPER training).

One time, I had a need to see the HAZWOPER certifications for a certain group of employees and the Tamara Group refused to send me copies of them.  Eventually, Oil Mop provided me the copies that Tamara had sent to them and I noticed that the certificates were not properly formatted, didn’t include the instructor’s license number or contact information, and had the word ‘occupation’ misspelled. It was a very poorly made computer-generated certificate that made me immediately suspicious.  I asked the persons to whom the certificate was issued about their training and they advised me that they had only had a brief (couple of hours) orientation provided by the female owner of the staffing agency.  I asked them questions about specific training modules required to be taught in the HAZWOPER class and NONE of them had any idea what I was talking about.  I can send you a couple of these certificates... [He did]

I was told not to question the lack of training of these individuals and one of the upper management responded by saying, “So what, oil isn’t that toxic and they are getting the job done anyway.”

On the barge, workers were discouraged from reporting accidents and injuries and there was a concern about TB at one time so I offered to have PPD tests done on everybody but I was told not to make that request because they did not want to alarm anybody on-shore that there may be a potential problem if it turned out to be nothing.  All HAZWOPER workers are supposed to have a complete physical before being assigned to work but none of them had even visited a doctor prior to being stationed on the barge.

We were told many times (from my initial orientation in Mobile, AL to daily briefings in Port Fourchon, LA) that if we ever spoke to ANY reporter from any media outlet, we would be fired on the spot.  We were prohibited from taking photos although I took thousands once I got to the point that I didn’t care if they caught me or not.

On the barge, we were supposed to be paid for a 24 hour day but that was reduced to a maximum of 16 hours on July 1st (they actually made it retroactive to June 24th and I had to fight to get the pay until the day of our notification).  On Sunday, July 4th around 5:00 pm, we received an e-mail stating that we would no longer receive any per diem but that certain expenses would be covered if receipts and records were properly kept. These two events reduced our income by about 50%.  Later, the allowable reimbursements were so restricted that hardly anything was going to be reimbursed.  When I complained, my boss sent me an e-mail stating that the scope of this project was big enough to be considered a ‘resume builder’ and that I should, basically, be grateful to be working on it.

We could not get gloves, insect repellent, sunscreen, proper footwear, etc. on the barge and many PPE had to be shared or re-used.

I have a video of sharks feeding on the bodies of some of the victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster…that was never released to the public and the families were never informed of the ghastly probability.

Here is that video:


We were not evacuated during the threat of Hurricane Alex but when the smaller TD Bonnie came through, the ENTIRE Gulf of Mexico was evacuated.  When we left on July 22nd, there was a shitload of oil out there…when we came back on the following Monday, there was nothing.  I can’t say, with authority, what happened to it but the rumors abounded that there were some heavy duty dispersant applications over the weekend when there were no witnesses out on the waters.  Many said that it was more than a coincidence that an American was named as head of BP that same week.

I also have pictures of a baby pelican that was oil soaked and rescued by us [see further down the post]…upper management ordered us to take it to an island near the boat and let it go…they did not want to deal with the paperwork of having to report the distressed wildlife.

...

I am listening to the radio interview of ‘Martha’ [Barkway] and the PEC training that she had to go through.  I had a higher level of that training but actually taught the training class that she is talking about.  I can send you the slide show for that training. [He did]  I asked for the test for that training and was told, via e-mail, to make up my own questions and to strive to pass EVERYBODY.

E-mail from boricua1968 on June 22, 2010, to that effect:

Good Morning,

I received the packet for the Module 2 training which has the instructions for registering the participants, the printout of the Module 2 PowerPoint presentation, and the student answer forms with the temporary cards.  However, it did not have the test anywhere in the package.  Could you e-mail me a copy of the test so that I can go ahead and give the class?

Here's the response:

There is no formal test for Module 2 other than what you would like to do.

Moving on:

The risks are minimized and these were not readily available to the workers regardless…especially the Hispanic workers that were not provided copies in Spanish.

[T]here is nothing substantial in that training…it is basically an ‘overview’ and MIGHT be considered an introduction to a more detail oriented course to prepare workers for the toxins that they may encounter.  Anyway, it shows that ‘Martha’ [Barkway] was right about it being just a PR show that BP is concerned for the worker’s safety.

[M]inimal training was provided after the workers had been there for a couple of months.

Here are the suspect certificates...notice how 'Occupational' is misspelled. [It was spelled with one "C"] Compare those to mine. [He provided me with several certificates, including his own]

[I]t is illegal to provide certificates to people that have not received adequate training.  There have been several people arrested for this same thing after Katrina.

And about those illnesses we hear so much about:

I had some concerns about a ‘sickness’ that was going around on the boat and myself and a colleague are still plagued with an upper respiratory infection and we believe it came from that project…I was concerned that some of the workers may not know how to go about determining that and remembered that most of them had not had a complete HAZWOPER training.

This next part struck me:

Truth be known, I am a Conservative and usually vote Republican but right is right and wrong is wrong. They have exposed these workers to some serious health issues and contracted companies who charged a high price per hour while only paying $10-$12/hr to the immigrants. In the interest of full disclosure, I was making $18.00/hr at a minimum of 16 hour days, 7 days a week, and was originally given a $160.00/day per diem on top of that.  These workers on the barge never received a per diem and were only paid for 12 hour days while the workers on the ‘beach’ received $20.00/day per diem and the rest was pocketed by the staffing agencies or contractors.

[W]e were not allowed to share even minimal amount of information [about personal protective equipment] with the workers.

He then shared a more personal story regarding stress management:

Supervisors and up would take naps during the day (myself included) and we would jokingly refer to these as stress naps.  We were not allowed to distribute this memo to the workers (who were not allowed to be below deck or in their bunks during working/standby hours) and were not even allowed to mention stress naps to anybody other than management.  Remember, I was not a direct supervisor so I had no say in what the workers should be doing during hours that they were being paid but I can guarantee you that anybody in a Supervisory position or above took naps while the workers were not allowed to.

I feel bad but, I had the opportunity to take naps and I took advantage of it…I was tired of being there anyway and I wasn’t going to be a champion of workers’ rights and lose any advantages that I had.  I hope that doesn’t make me appear to be a ‘monster’. [It doesn't]

Remember how compassionate BP spokespeople are in those genuinely heartfelt commercials that are airing now? Yeahnotsomuch. Oh, and patriotism? Fugetaboutit:

And an AMERICAN FLAG!!! They wouldn’t even provide us with one.  I bought the flags that you will see in the video with my own money.  BP and its contractors would not supply them to fly above the vessels.

Speaking of compassion:

Here is the oil covered bird that we were told to take to an island and set free instead of calling Wildlife officials:


Re: Paranoia, firings, blackballing:

..I was asking to get a copy of my OSHA 10 and 30 Hour certifications.  They did not want to release these certifications to anybody for the stated reason of a suspicion that the person may go to work for another company but, more than likely, they were concerned about the legitimacy of these certificates and didn’t want them floating around (I have never worked for a company that withheld certificates of its employees’ accomplishments).  This particular e-mail also demonstrates the fragile nature of employment on the BP project where people were threatened with being fired and ‘blackballed’ for any small reason. [I have a copy of the e-mail]

As of June 24th, the worst oil disaster in U.S. history was no longer considered to be an emergency:

This is an e-mail showing that our pay would be reduced by 8 hours per day apparently because BP no longer considered this to be an ‘emergency’ as of June 24th, 2010 while the oil was still gushing full blast into the Gulf. [I have a copy of the e-mail]

And here are a few more grenades he threw my way:

E-mail indicating the exodus of trained safety supervisors due to working conditions and being managed by inexperienced personnel.  One company actually started replacing trained employees with untrained family members. [I have a copy of the e-mail]

E-mail indicating that we were supposed keep a lid on any problems that may arise. [I have a copy of the e-mail]

This is the Site Safety Plan...notice on the next to the last page it requires that all workers submit to a medical examination prior to being deployed.  Not a single one of us had an examination. [I have a copy of the plan]

They didn’t want us to fail anybody…on the back of the instructor sheet it actually says: “I, the instructor, agree that any and all questions skipped or answered incorrectly by the student have been reviewed and that the correct answer has been written in the space provided.”

Objective: Fraud, abuse, & profit.

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

Special to TPC- E-mail from Gulf Coast hiring agency: "BP is evil."

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

The other day I posted two very important stories that came to me via my pal Barkway. You can read them here (“Now BP can tell the government that they have haz certified workers on scene…when they DON’T!”) and here (“Clean-up workers are being forced to re-use contaminated and damaged gloves. And people are eating, drinking and smoking in a contaminated zone.”).

Here's an excerpt from the first story:

First of all, the following does NOT apply to the hiring agencies, who are at the mercy of BP. BP calls all the shots, won’t give them the proper gear, masks, etc.  And now they’re dictating to the agencies to lower the pay, no more per diem, no housing. Where are they supposed to live, in a tent?

This is despicable! If Thad Allen won’t call them out on this, then nothing will happen. He is the arm of the government that supposedly speaks to BP.

In order to authenticate Barkway's claims, here is documentation. The following is the e-mail correspondence between Barkway and the hiring agency. This should put to rest any doubts anyone had about her credibility, if, indeed, there were any.

I've changed nothing. I did, however, eliminate anything in the e-mails that would affect either party's privacy, corrected some spelling, and bolded.

Barkway introduced the e-mails with this:

This guy is a BP Contractor I had first applied to but then signed with a different company.

I asked him if he had gotten the same "lower their pay" order from BP. Thad Allen is just a stand in stooge for the government. He has NO AUTHORITY. BP can do as it pleases because of this "ESF" (Emergency Support Function) policy.

Here are the e-mails:

- Original Message --------
Subject: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job
From: Barkway
Date: Mon, June 21, 2010 12:09 pm
To: XXXX @level1dmc.com

I was referred to you by XXXX of the FL Dept of Environmental Protection.I have 40 hr hazwoper certificate, am a qualified wildlife rescue/rehabber (worked Katrina in LA), and already completed BP's training (back in May) and have been trying to locate authorized agencies for hiring ever since! It has been an exercise in frustration!

Please find enclosed my hazwoper cert. Don't have a resume to send as up to now (and since 1988)
I have always been self employed.

Regards,
Barkway

***

From: XXXX @level1dmc.com
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 4:39 PM
To: Barkway
Subject: RE: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job

We have 2 contracts in the Pensacola area for beach protection and clean up! We have immediate positions available for qualified applicants.

To qualify, you must:

* Have 40 hr Hazwoper Certification
* Florida Drivers License
* Pass a pre employment physical, drug and background check - paid by employer

We are offering pay rate of $13-$14 / hr and per diem for those who live 55 miles or more outside of the work area. First to respond will be the first called. Work today! Please follow the directions below

Please fill out the attached application on your computer, print out the form and sign at the bottom. Scan and send me the signed version along with a copy of your Florida driver's license and Hazwoper certification. If you have any other qualified individuals interested please have them do the same. I will review the information and contact you with the details of your assignment. Thank you.....

Return to me:
1. scanned copy of signed application
2. Electronic version of the application
3. Copy of Florida DL .
4. Copy of Hazwoper certification.

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

***

Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job
From: Barkway
Date: Wed, June 30, 2010 10:18 am
To: XXXX @level1dmc.com

Did you get the paperwork I re-sent to you yesterday at your request?
There was apparently trouble with our email system.

Barkway

***

From: XXXX @level1dmc.com
Sent: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 5:01 PM
To: Barkway
Subject: RE: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job

Can you resend your paper work?

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

***

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Fw: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job
From: Barkway
Date: Fri, July 02, 2010 2:23 pm
To: XXXX @level1dmc.com

Re-sending. Please confirm receipt.
Barkway

***

I'm sorry Barkway i did not recieve anything yet. Please try again

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

***

From: XXXX @level1dmc.com
Sent: Friday, July 02, 2010 3:22 PM
To: Barkway
Subject: RE: Fw: Have 40hr Hazwoper-Oil Spill job

Got everything. We also have a new application I am attaching you can print and bring with you when you report to work. I will be calling you soon with information about when and where to report.

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

***

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Urgent question
From: Barkway
Date: Wed, July 14, 2010 10:39 am
To: XXXX @level1dmc.com

Barkway checking in with you again.

I had been scheduled to start working for an oil spill cleanup contractor but then got delayed when they called all of us to say that BP had changed the terms of the contract with them and was ordering them (as well as ALL other hiring agencies) to pay workers less money and with no more per diems, or housing offers (some were offering housing).

Have you heard this?

Barkway

***

From: XXXX @level1dmc.com
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 7:57 PM
To: Barkway
Subject: RE: Urgent question

Barkway,

Yes we have been hit by the same contract change.

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

***

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Urgent question
From: Barkway
Date: Wed, July 14, 2010 10:16 pm
To: XXXX @level1dmc.com

Can they DO that? It's my understanding that BP is under the thumb of the US Gov't and the Coast Guard to do what it takes to resolve the mess they created.

Who gave them the power to reneg on contracts? Not to mention that given what's involved and the long term potential consequences, I don't think they were paying workers enough to BEGIN with!

They've got SOME nerve!

Ok, off my soapbox now.

Barkway

***

From: XXX @level1dmc.com
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 10:48 PM
To: Barkway
Subject: RE: Urgent question

Barkway

It made us sick when we heard. The coast guard is under what the federal govt calls ESF (Emergency Support Function) the coast guard is just monitoring the spill. Unfortunately the Govt has no say in the matter. BP is evil.

Thank You:
XXXX
South Eastern Regional Director
Visit us at WWW.LEVEL1DMC.com

UPDATE: Here are the government documents detailing the command structure, allowing BP to do what it is doing.

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

SPECIAL to TPC: "Now BP can tell the government that they have haz certified workers on scene...when they DON'T!"

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare

I got a Twitter message from my Florida pal Barkway, who asked if I would share her story about clean-up workers and how BP is treating them...oh and that fraud thing. I am more than glad to, since this is one that is under-reported. I have posted this nearly verbatim (she okay'd minor editing, and bolding is mine), and I have intermingled quotes from our phone call.:

Barkway said:

From our phone call:

First of all, the following does NOT apply to the hiring agencies, who are at the mercy of BP. BP calls all the shots, won't give them the proper gear, masks, etc.  And now they're dictating to the agencies to lower the pay, no more per diem, no housing. Where are they supposed to live, in a tent?

This is despicable! If Thad Allen won't call them out on this, then nothing will happen. He is the arm of the government that supposedly speaks to BP.

From her messages to me:

I'm a HAZ certified worker and was assigned to work the BP oil spill. I've been delayed on deployment and my employer wasn't saying why, until today...

BP is telling all the hiring agencies to lower worker pay (already lowered before), that they will no longer pay per diems, or provide housing. It's my understanding that they don't have the authority to set rates of pay as they are the "deed-doer" and the government has ordered them to pay whatever it takes to clean up the mess. They have a deeper reason for doing this at this time and they will get away with it too if no one reports on this.

If they can lower pay to a point where the hazwoper certified people like me quit, they are left with people who will work for any rate of pay (usually the poor, unemployed, illegal immigrants) and who won't complain about the working conditions.

Furthermore, when they get sick (and they will because they are not providing proper protective gear), they won't have any recourse! Additionally, if they hire the unemployed, they qualify for government benefits under the HIRE Act.

Second, they have this big training campaign through PECPremier.com where they claim to be giving workers the training that hazwoper certified people have.

ONE: I took that training just to see what it was all about and it was a JOKE. (On the phone, she added, "People were looking around at each other, 'What?'") It was only 4 hours (mine was 40 hours with a written final exam) and they spend most of that 4 hours talking about silly things like BP's safety record and telling people to drink lots of water to avoid heat stroke, and how to hold the shovel.

From our phone call:

What was missing from the course was the meat of the hazardous waste training class, like math, science, physics, medicine...

From her messages:

They also NEVER sent me the hard copy of my credential earned from the training (yellow PEC card. Required to work the spill). You should SEE the course I took (and the exam that they are NOT giving these people).

Now they can tell the government that they have haz certified workers on scene...when they DON'T!
TWO:  Because these people are being given the same certification that people like me have (the REAL 40 hour hazwoper), it now devalues my certification for the future because everyone in the industry now knows there are thousands of fraudulent certifications out there. This will effect my work and those like me going forward because our credentials will be questioned.

BP has already done enough damage as it is without being allowed to now inflict damage on workers as well.

I asked Barkway if she actually did clean-up work, and here's what she said:

I was supposed to have started a week ago but employer kept calling delays with no explanation. Today we got THAT explanation.

But I am contracted to work, yes.

I also have a friend who has already been working up there 3 weeks and SHE has complained about pay and conditions getting worse.

From our phone call:

They only get paid $11 an hour, which originally was $20/hour, $75 per diem. Then the range started changing to $12-18/hour, per diem varies, and housing included. Then it went down to $11-14/hour, no per diem, no housing.

The hiring agencies are not the culprits here. It's BP. BP pay them; they pay us. But they must be able to cover costs.

I knew something was up when first they wouldn't let us work outside our resident county (as if thousands of haz workers were in each?). Now I know why.  There aren't enough in each county... but she was told, "Oh, well we're training them."

I actually had been contracted twice before, too, since June, each time they called to cancel deployment with no explanation why. THIS story was why...

Welcome to the United Corporatists of America.

Thank you Barkway. Now let's get this over-reported instead of under-reported. This story needs to be told.

UPDATE: Here is a description of a real 40 hour haz course by the people who certified Barkway. Per Barkway, they have warning regarding proper training for the Gulf here.

FacebookTwitterRedditDiggStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestEmailShare