Troubleshooter

Workers hired to help Sandy victims want pay

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some North Carolina workers who were hired by a local home health agency to travel to New York City and help FEMA in their relief efforts say they are having problems with their pay checks.

The workers said they knew there were going to be working in rough conditions following Sandy's devastation, but they never thought it would be as bad as it was.

They told me while working they didn't where they would get their next meal, where they would sleep, and once they completed the work they had trouble getting paid.

"I just want to get paid, we signed a contract we would get paid, I just want my money," Sayward Locklear said.

Locklear is part of a group of people hired by Native Angels Home Health based out of Pembroke.

Native Angels put out ads right after Hurricane Sandy hit New York looking for workers to head to New York and help with FEMA'S emergency deployment response.

According to paperwork they say they were given by Native Angels, the workers were to get $12 an hour and work 12 hour shifts, then have 12 hours off. Housing, transportation, and meals would all be paid for.

Right before the group was set to leave, they say the pay changed.

"It went down to $10 an hour and $50 per diem," Christi Locklear said.

On the way to New York City, the transportation provided by Native Angels was less than ideal, according to the workers.

"Forty people on a 20 passenger bus, I was on the floor for 18 hours," one worker said.

Once they got to Manhattan, they arrived at their housing and realized there were problems with it also.

"You never knew who you were laying behind. If there was one bed, four people in that room, if there were two beds, you had eight people in a room," one worker said. "You don't know who you're sleeping with. They could have this, that, and the other, and they want us to sleep in the bed with them.

As for the food, the workers said they thought Native Angels would provide meals or at least money for food. Instead, they said there was no food and money wasn't provided.

The workers all said despite the situation Native Angels put them in, they all still did their jobs each day by working in the shelters and provided basic care to the elderly.

Once their jobs were done, they got back to Pembroke and expected to get paid.

"Bobbie Ghaffar told us on the bus that day that we would be paid 12 days after we get back, 12 days was last Monday," Sayward Locklear said.

The workers waited and said they called and went to the office of Native Angels, but still didn't receive a paycheck.

The president of Native Angels, Bobbie Ghaffar, sat down with me.

She said they took 95 people to New York City to help in FEMA's relief efforts. When it came to $12 an hour versus $10, she said they were hired by a FEMA contractor and when they changed the pay, that's when Native Angels had to change the pay for their workers.

As for eight workers staying in one hotel room with only two beds, she said there weren't enough rooms for all of their workers.

As for money for food, she said after the third day of being in New York, she learned FEMA would reimburse up to $70 a day, but only if workers had receipts.

She said if a worker needed money for food, she would use her personal money and give it to them so they could eat. She also added they could eat or sleep in the shelters.

As for why these workers are still waiting to get paid, she said she never promised a pay date. She said when she gets paid, she will pay her workers. The good news was Ghaffar said Native Angels received partial payment and all of her workers would get paid.

The day after talking with Ghaffar, the workers I met with told me they were able to pick up their paychecks. They also said Native Angels paid them $40 per day for food.

In a statement, Ghaffar added in part, "When providing disaster relief services, agencies frequently deal with logistical challenges. Native Angels worked diligently through these challenges and is proud of the work it performed for FEMA."

Some of the workers took a train or plane to get back to Pembroke as they say there was not enough transportation provided by Native Angels to get back home. Ghaffar told me if the workers have a receipt, they will be reimbursed. She also said there was adequate transportation to get all of their workers back.

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