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In the Lawless Post-Katrina Cleanup, Construction Companies Are Preying on Workers

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Hissyspit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 06:17 AM
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In the Lawless Post-Katrina Cleanup, Construction Companies Are Preying on Workers
http://www.alternet.org/katrina/56958

In the Lawless Post-Katrina Cleanup, Construction Companies Are Preying on Workers

By Brian Beutler, Media Consortium. Posted July 16, 2007.

After Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, construction companies have squeezed billions out of federal contracts with few labor regulations and almost no oversight, allowing outrageous worker abuses to occur.

Thanks to its initial disastrous rescue effort, today, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) receives most of the blame for chaos in New Orleans. But it wasn't just FEMA. The anatomy of the failed reconstruction is complicated, but understanding what went wrong requires examining the Department of Labor (DOL).

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In the two years since the disaster, there have been thousands of testimonials -- issued to both government officials and private advocates -- about a wide taxonomy of abuses.The most frequent complaint workers cite is withheld wages, but almost as numerous are accusations of employee intimidation, toxic and hazardous working conditions, immigrant abuse, trafficking, exploitation and monetary extortion.

On June 26, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives, convened a hearing to investigate the origins of the abuses perpetrated by subcontractors and other employers against those working to clean up New Orleans. The subcommittee heard testimony from advocates, attorneys, organizers, DOL officials, and a man named Jeffrey Steele.

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Steele worked for more than a week before his first employer belatedly provided him the vaccines he needed to avoid illnesses like tetanus and hepatitis B that were idling in the toxic stew fermenting throughout much of the city. Most nights he slept on floors in houses and hotels with about seven other men, sharing a bathroom and scrounging for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that the National Guard had trucked in for workers and residents. After his first two weeks on the job -- 12 hour shifts, seven days a week -- he was owed $1,400, not including overtime. He was paid $230.

Steele's story was hardly uncommon...

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