Live 5 Investigates: $184,000 owed to rest area workers

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - One hundred and 60 workers hired to clean rest areas in South Carolina haven't been paid for more than a month.

The S.C. Department of Transportation took emergency action to make sure service was as uninterrupted as possible, said Brain Keys, Deputy Secretary for Finance & Administration for the S.C. Department of Transportation.

A company named Jonathan Pratt Landscaping Service won a bid with the DOT to perform janitorial work at all rest areas in South Carolina. The year-long contract started January first of this year.

About a month into the contract, workers said they hadn't been paid all month.

Jonathan Pratt owns the business, based in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Reached on the phone today, Pratt admitted he bit off more than he could chew.

He says he took on a job that was too big for his company.

He hasn't been able to keep up. Pratt says he owes about $184,000 to more than 100 workers.

Pratt promised he's in the process of getting money to the DOT to cut checks and hopefully get workers paid by next Wednesday.

The State Department of Transportation confirmed Pratt has notified them he cannot fulfill the contract.

Brian Keys with SCDOT said their priority was making sure rest areas remained open and clean. The Department went through an emergency procurement process to hire a company named Vet Pride to take over services. They will do the work for at least six months as the state works out a new bid process. Keys said Vet Pride is planning to hire many of the subcontractors who were working for the former company.
 
"The workers at the location are contracted employees and they worked for a private contractor. However, we believe it's important for them to be compensated for the work they have done, and we're making every effort to make sure it happens very quickly," Keys explained.
 
The SCDOT is are working with Pratt, who Keys said was "amendable to moving forward with payments." They hope to send payments within a week to the unpaid workers.
 
Because people weren't getting paid, some stopped working last week. The SCDOT shuffled resources Thursday and Friday to get rest areas cleaned and open through the weekend.
 
The State Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation currently has two complaints on file against Pratt's business. DLLR spokesperson Lesia Kudelka tells us both people filed complaints on January 25th, owed $800 each.
 
The SCDOT said this was a rare situation when it comes to contract work in the Department.

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