Friday, July 07, 2006

Unconscionable Exploitation

A little noticed item in New Orleans City Business (don't think anyone other than Joseph noticed, and I did check the national media) made my blood boil two months ago:
Jeffrey Steele came to New Orleans from Atlanta last fall hoping to earn $10 an hour or more in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Steele thought he found a job working for subcontractors of Burlingame, Calif.-based ECC, which has a $500-million contract with the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Glenn Sweatt, ECC general counsel, said Steele was not contracted with ECC.

Steele said he worked from 5:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m. seven days a week from October to December removing debris from Elysian Fields, the French Quarter and other nearby areas.

When pay time rolled around, Steele received just $500 of an expected $5,000...

Steele, now working in New Orleans for a different company, said he was one of 65 workers who came from the Atlanta area last year to work in New Orleans.

Many went back to Atlanta a week before Thanksgiving "dead broke," he said.

Sweatt said ECC has heard other reports of phony contractors.

"It's happened more than once. That's all I have to say about that," Sweatt said.

Complaints are turned over to federal officials, he said. ECC has a "pretty aggressive program to investigate complaints," he said. ECC has a person working full time to resolve payment disputes.

Sweatt said a lesson can be learned from Steele's experience. Sweatt's advice to workers is to have a written contract.

"People need to have everything in writing before they commit themselves to anything," Sweatt said. "When it's time to pay the bills, a handshake is a handshake."

As for inhumane working conditions, Sweatt said federally funded jobs are swarming with safety inspectors. "I think somebody would be hard pressed to say there's dangeorus and inhumane conditions (with) the federal work,

That last point is certainly debatable, but it was the part about needing a contract that caught my eye. I can't believe the law's that settled--you need to have a written contract from your boss to have any guarantee of being paid. I suspect that it's more a case of corporations knowing that they can get away with murder where immigrants and poor Americans are concerned.

Anyway, it's an old story that I should have written about two months ago, but something made me think of it today:

Report: Workers in N.O. endure abuse
Low-wage laborers exploited in recovery

"The treatment of workers in New Orleans constitutes a national crisis of civil and human rights," said the report by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Center, which interviewed more than 700 workers over several months only to find glaring examples of unfair labor practices, homelessness, and harassment by police and contractors.

The report bluntly depicts racist, bleak times for those on the working end of construction equipment or in the service industry. It details the experiences of migrant workers from out of town, many Hispanic and Asian, and also of African-Americans born and raised in New Orleans.

"New Orleans is being rebuilt on the backs of underpaid and unpaid workers perpetuating cycles of poverty that existed pre-Katrina

I haven't been able to find any national stories on the report (or even the text of the report), but something tells me that impression is going to be that it's New Orleanians doing the exploiting. Need I point out that ECC is a California-based company?

Note:Hadn't seen the print edition of the paper when I posted last night. At, the last story that I mentioned is clearly listed as a Front Page story, yet now that I have the print editions of both today and yesterday's paper's, it doesn't seem to be in either. Odd.

My husband is a disabled veteran from the US Army.When we returned to his home town ( BR ) he went looking for employment, this was just before Katrina.He was hired on Coporate Security Solutions. When he worked over 80 hours one week they offered him a promotion and supposedly, less hours afer a few weeks.Needless to say they kept him as executive manager for BR ( with a company CC in his NAME for the company ) until he straightened out their paperwork. They hired another person ( for a lot less money and less hours ) had him train her and then demoted him and cut his pay, of course they made it retro-active. They did this just before the holidays, so it's not just contracters for the gov it's out of state companies who are ripping off this state and the people in it.
They cut his pay retroactively? I guess they can get away with pretty much anything. Is he stil working for CSSI?

It seems that these people aren't just ripping off the government, they're ripping off the poor people that work for them, and most people either don't or don't care. The few stories that do get out don't make it clear that it's mainly out of state companies doing the ripping off.

Unfortunately, it's not all national companies, ECC had two local subcontractors on the job in the City Business article. I believe that one, Richards Disposal, showed up on Nagin's list of campaign contributors. I was actually surprised to see that the other, TSG, showed up on a search of this blog--pasted from a linked article, I'd have remembered typing it.

It should all be investigated and cracked down on. All the companies--local or out of state--ripping off their employees and contract workers should have the book thrown at them.
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