After 18 years of working as an inspector, Greg McGeary took his first job in oil and gas last winter inspecting pipelines in the Marcellus Shale for a Florida-based startup.
It was a predictably tough gig — walking a pipeline in all types of weather and driving three hours a day to and from remote locations. That’s why the pay, what would amount to $150,800 a year for a typical work week, was high. But in oil and gas, there may not be such a thing as a typical work week.
This was Mr. McGeary’s first experience with a dayrate — $580 a day in his case — a common practice in the industry that many firms now are changing under mounting pressure from government regulators and civil lawsuits.
Lawyers involved in these types of suits say they are, in part, a symptom of the boom and bust culture in the oilfield: the boom brings in industry novices and exposes workers to long, hectic hours and the bust sends some looking for compensation they feel they couldn’t reap during peak time.
“I was told that the job was six days a week, 10 hours a day,” he said. But when he worked more than that, his pay remained the same.
Mr. McGeary’s job was to follow welders and check their work. Where pipelines crossed streams or other bodies of water, the workers had 24 hours to restore the sites to their original condition, which sometimes meant working well past his promised schedule.
Many days he didn’t know “when or if” he’d be returning home.
“I put my family through hell,” Mr. McGeary said. “I have a little girl who plays softball and I’d tell her, ‘I’ll take you to your game at night.’ I’m supposed to be done at 4 o’clock. And 4 o’clock rolls around and they say, ‘Oh, no,’” extending his shift for another eight hours.
The day rate was blind to the twists and turns of the job.
When Mr. McGeary bought his concerns to the company, “I was just told that I agreed to a 10-hour day and it didn’t matter that we sometimes had to work more — that’s all that they could pay me. In one particular instance, I worked 30 straight hours and I was told I could only get paid for 10,” he said. The company, North American Pipeline Inspection, denies that Mr. McGeary worked that long.
After five months on the job, Mr. McGeary quit and went to work for another pipeline firm, returning to an hourly wage. Two months later, in July, he filed a collective action lawsuit against North American Pipeline Inspection, on behalf of all of its employees in a similar predicament. About 30 other former workers have joined the lawsuit.