What Subcontractors Need to Know

What Subcontractors Need to Know When Seeking Storm Cleanup Work in the Michael and Florence Recovery Efforts

Original Post: Equipment World | Don McLoud | October 16, 2018

Hurricanes Florence and Michael have left a trail of destruction from Florida to Virginia and a demand for cleanup services.

For subcontractors with dump trucks, knuckle booms, skid steers and other debris-clearing equipment, responding for debris loading and hauling services can be an economic boost, a good way to make business contacts and gain experience, as well as provide a much-needed service to help storm victims.

But there are also some pitfalls, and subcontractors need to be careful when seeking work after a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Only work for the prime

For one thing, disaster areas tend to attract con artists. These fly-by-night outfits swoop in and often are not licensed. They prey on desperate storm victims and can also entrap well-meaning subcontractors who may find themselves getting stiffed on their compensation.

“There’s a lot of crooks,” says Al McClaran, part owner of Southern Disaster Recovery. His company has been fulfilling cleanup contracts near Wilmington, North Carolina, following Hurricane Florence.

McClaran recommends only working for the prime contractor, the one with the contract for the cleanup.

“I would never work for anybody other than the prime,” he says. “I would never work for a guy that is a broker sitting in his doublewide somewhere making arrangements, making a quarter a cubic yard off everything.”

He suggests that subcontractors interested in working in disaster cleanup contact one of the large disaster-response contractors, which sign cleanup contracts well in advance of a storm’s arrival.

Line up work in advance

Simply showing up for work with your equipment in a disaster area can also pay off, but the risks are higher.

“There are some people that just show up with their trucks, and they usually go to work,” McClaran says. “That’s a good method, too. But a lot of times, they’ll go to work for somebody that may be a broker, may not be the prime contractor. The odds of getting paid in those situations can get a little scary.”

He says he’s also heard of situations where subcontractors will get paid for all of their work, then get stiffed on the retainer, which is usually 10 percent. “Well, that’s your profit,” he says.

Another pitfall of just showing up without lining up work in advance occurs when, as in the case of Florence and now with Michael, flooding keeps cleanup crews out of disaster areas until the water recedes.

Nearly three weeks after Florence made landfall September 14, Joe Sumner, owner of Sumner Tree Service, was still awaiting word on activation of cleanup contracts for several South Carolina coastal counties. His company is based in Iowa and has 16 loaders on standby, waiting to travel to South Carolina.

“We haven’t mobilized yet,” he said October 4. “Everything’s ready to go; we’re just waiting for the call.”

McClaran says he has had to turn away subcontractors seeking work after Florence. “They’re begging us to go to work, and we don’t have enough work for them to do,” he says.

Online job boards advertise hundreds of cleanup jobs for Florence, and some are starting to appear for Hurricane Michael cleanup in Florida. Most of those are for laborers picking up debris, serving as traffic control or monitors at dump sites. Many of the ads for the Carolinas also indicate they’re hiring only local workers. Pay ranges from $9 to $15 an hour, depending on the ad.

Disaster recovery contractor Phillips & Jordan has been performing post-Florence contract cleanup work in several communities in the Carolinas. It had already lined up all its subcontractors before the storm, says Tommy Webster, disaster services operations manager.

“We have already fulfilled all our crucial subcontractor positions needed for the recovery work for Hurricane Florence,” Webster says. “These positions and needs are addressed early on before a natural disaster’s impact.”

So, if you’re serious about getting into the disaster-response business, it pays to prepare well in advance of hurricane season.

Don’t get scammed

Here are some other tips for subcontractors from Courtney Little, president of the American Subcontractors Association:

  • “First and foremost is making sure you’re licensed or registered in the state (you’ll be working in). That’s your first line of defense, because some states, if you’re not registered or licensed, you cannot get paid.”
  • Make sure you follow the state’s rules on liens, bonding and payment protection.
  • Do background checks on the contractor to make sure it is a reputable firm. Many states, including South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, have websites with searches to determine if a contractor is licensed. “We tell people the best way to get paid is to know who you’re dealing with in the first place.”
  • “Be very clear about the scope of work you’re producing and the expectation and get that in writing…make sure you have a clear written contract of terms that both parties have signed off on.”

Disaster response contractors

McClaran, of Southern Disaster Recovery, recommends subcontractors have all their insurance in place, including workers’ compensation.

He also suggests contracting with the major disaster recovery companies. They contract with federal, state and local governments and sign contracts for several years to be prepared should disaster strike. They typically mobilize before the storm hits. Most have forms on their websites that subcontractors interested in work can fill out.

The following companies often hire subcontractors for a variety of disaster response work all over the country: