You're Fired!

Crossing the Donald

Weatherpeople attributed the cause to a high-pressure system in the Atlantic crashing against a low-pressure system off the Carolinas. But boat captains could be heard trying to outsmart one another with competing theories. (Did you hear the one about Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle opening up the New River Dam?).

Colville sagely mused that the cause was probably more complicated, citing the moon, melting polar ice caps, and autumnal high tides. "Instead of the Perfect Storm, it was like the Perfect Flood," he said on the telephone.

"You can't get mad, though," he added in his typical laid-back style. "It's nature." His wise words were punctuated with the sound of a beer cracking open nearby.

Tailpipe waited for the TV-show punch line. Hey, dudes, you've been globally warmed!

Yankee Traitor

The stuffed suits in Washington don't know nothin' about economic "crisis." Let 'em come to South Florida and spend a few weeks looking for work on a construction site. The industry is so devastated by the housing slump that some workers are toiling for free just for the prospect of a paycheck.

At the site of the former Sheraton Yankee Trader, the iconic resort on A1A in the midst of a $65 million makeover before it reopens as the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, some bills go unpaid month after month.

"[Some] workers are being paid by their employers, but the company that hires other companies [the general contractor] isn't paying the subcontracting companies," an on-site source who asked to remain anonymous told the 'Pipe.

The contractor is BE&K, a Charlotte-based subsidiary of KBR, a Houston-based firm that had been a subsidiary of Halliburton until last year. KBR is the single biggest contractor to the U.S. Army and a major player in Iraq. The corporation is certainly not hurting in the cash-flow department, recession or not.

But Tailpipe's on-the-job source, who's a manager for one of the beleaguered sub-contractors, says that BE&K hasn't paid a dime to his company since it started at the site in June. Not surprisingly, BE&K, which contracted the project through its Orlando office, did not return calls requesting information.

At the site itself, workers told Tailpipe that, aside from the job being split between two towers, there are so many subcontracting companies at the site that it's hard to keep track of which companies are being paid and which are muddling along on a wing and a prayer.

Tailpipe's loquacious friend says one unpaid company, Gulf Plumbing, walked off the site last Friday. A staff member at the company's office in Miami refused to comment.

"They don't want to go public," Tailpipe's source says. "They're going to handle it a different way" — the way that involves lawyers.

As for his own company, walking off the site isn't an option. "If you pull out, [BE&K] will get someone else."

By continuing to work, the company at least keeps alive the hope that it will be paid — eventually — while establishing its rights to a legal claim. Even though hope for a quick payoff fades, the man says, coming to work at the Westin job site beats the other option, which is not working at all.

"There are not too many other jobs out there," says the disheartened construction manager, who hasn't gotten paid in three months. "In the present economic situation, you're lucky to have a job like this." BE&K, he contends, is "taking advantage of our situation."

His boss, he adds, "moves forward on hopes. Today, he went to the bank to get a loan just to make the payroll. Small companies like ours are really hurting."

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