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Marcellus Shale Workers Recover Back Pay

PHOTO: This graphic shows a complex hiring process that federal investigators say has resulted in problems with workers in the Marcellus Shale being properly paid. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Department of Labor.
PHOTO: This graphic shows a complex hiring process that federal investigators say has resulted in problems with workers in the Marcellus Shale being properly paid. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Department of Labor.
December 12, 2014

PITTSBURGH - About 5,300 workers in Pennsylvania and West Virginia who work in the fracked gas industry of the Marcellus Shale have received back wages totaling $4.5 million.

The two-year investigation revealed the problem stems mainly from the fact that a few big employers at the top contract and subcontract the work to others, said John DuMont, district director of the Pittsburgh office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"You could say it's a profit motive," he said. "The further down the independent contractors go, the less chance they have to make a profit, and the more they're looking to squeeze and look for ways to cut corners."

The subcontractors sometimes don't know what the law requires, DuMont said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

The federal probe uncovered several violations, but DuMont said the main one was failure to pay overtime. He said the focus is both on employees and employers.

"Our goal is not only to make employees whole for money that they should have been paid under the law," he said, "but to also make sure the firms understand compliance for the future."

First-time offenders are not fined, he said, unless it can be shown the violation was willful, such as paying workers off the books.

"We do have civil money penalties," he said, "If there's repeat or recurring violations that they've been investigated before, we can assess civil money penalties."

Dumont said the workers do many kinds of jobs, including cleaning the well sites, setting up the drills, hauling water and building roads.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - PA