No-one can say for sure how many civilian contractors have been killed or injured in Afghanistan. A rough guide can be obtained from the US Department of Labor, which publishes figures on the number of compensation claims for contractor deaths abroad. According to this measure, 763 contractors employed by US companies were killed in Afghanistan between 1 September 2001 and 31 March 2011. Another 4,729 were seriously injured.
Even if they are not killed or injured, many of these contractors are not well looked after by their employers, as indicated by a lawsuit filed yesterday in Washington DC. Washington-based lawyer Scott J Bloch filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of four former security specialists who were injured while working for the notorious Blackwater Industries company, in order to recover their payment of social security, unemployment insurance, and unpaid benefits and state and local withholding and unemployment insurance, and other unspecified damages.
The action, which seeks $60 million in damages and punitive damages, has been brought on their own behalf and thousands of others who have worked for Blackwater, now known as Xe Services.
“These brave individuals who worked in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Afghani Enduring Freedom, deserve better than to be turned away without health insurance, pension benefits, unemployment benefits, and other withholding afforded to Blackwater’s other employees,” said Scott Bloch yesterday.
Since 2007, Blackwater has employed over 10,000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan under lucrative US government contracts, including many former armed services veterans. The lawsuit says Blackwater sought to avoid millions of dollars in taxes, withholding, and payments of benefits to these employees by classifying them improperly as independent contractors.
The suit also states that one of the representative plaintiffs already had a determination from the IRS that Blackwater misclassified him as an independent contractor. "The IRS already determined in the case of one of my clients that he should have been classified as an employee," said Bloch. “Now thousands of people will have to file amended returns. Thousands of people will likely be entitled to benefits they were denied due to the misclassification, including payment of their employer share of pension, health and disability insurance premiums, and other plans that Blackwater filed with the government for its employees, promising it would not discriminate against those employees as they did here.”
The suit also claims that the US Congress had previously held hearings which determined that Blackwater and its related companies misclassified employees in order to avoid millions of dollars in taxes.
The case was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and covers individuals from all over the United States and some Americans living abroad, including all former and current Blackwater and Xe employees and so-called independent contractors.