Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gulf Worker Exploitation: The Plot Thickens

I've written a couple of times about the abysmal working conditions of immigrant laborers who have been hired to do Gulf Coast recovery work. Yesterday, I wrote a about a group of skilled construction workers who were terminated an replaced by lower paid, more exploitable immigrant workers.

Well, the plot thickens. Undocumented immigrant workers have been found working on hurricane recovery operations at a naval base near New Orleans where our old friends Kellogg Brown & Root -- a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. is leading hurricane reconstruction.

This isn't the only Halliburton subcontractor that's been up to no good. And for those of you who are just tuning in, the problem here is not just greedy corporations (greed is good), but the Bush administration's recent suspension of a federal law that was designed to suspend such shifty operations:
Work at the base has been a source of dispute in recent weeks because dozens of unionized electricians, many of them local residents who had their homes destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, claim they were let go by another Halliburton subcontractor, Alabama-based BE&K, in favor of lower wage workers. That came after the Bush administration suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, a law that guarantees the prevailing local wage for workers operating under federal contracts.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who has been following the case closely, said the discovery of illegal immigrants at the naval base confirms that Gulf Coast workers looking for livable wages are getting left out of the federally funded reconstruction.

"I don't think there's any question that there's a pretty significant sucking sound there," he said. "If you were paying prevailing wages, you would be hiring skilled electricians."
Meanwhile, the issue is threatening to grow into a political storm in Washington DC. As I wrote yesterday, Congressman George Miller (D-CA) has found a way to force a vote to overturn the suspension of David Bacon and apparently has enough Republican support to do it.

Those who normally want the undocumented immigrants tarred, feathered and transported out of the country are suddently rising to the defense of the free enterprise right to hire anyone we damn well please, pay 'em whatever they'll take, and work 'em half to death -- just like the good old days.

An identical editorial defending the suspension of Davis Bacon is not mysteriously appearing in newspapers across the country, according to Facing South:
One of the smartest things President Bush did to reduce recovery costs in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita was to suspend Davis-Bacon Act rules in the hardest hit states. But Congress is frantically trying to overrule the president, which would add billions of dollars to the already staggering recovery costs.
Amazing, Facing South observes, "that newspapers from California, Colorado, and North Carolina could be channeling, simultaneously and in complete harmony, the Bush administration line for cutting wages for workers rebuilding the Gulf Coast."

The interesting thing is that, Slingshot pointed out last month, suspending Davis Bacon doesn't even save the government money, which was the administration's professed aim in suspending the law.

The David-Bacon foes are quite open about their hopes that the temporary suspension can be made permanent. This is scary enough, but when coupled with a recent Mississippi editorial calling for the temporary suspension of OSHA enforcement, one whether there is any length they will not go to exploit the Gulf tragedy to further their ideological ends.