Jeanne d’Arc:
Goin’ Back to New Orleans

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a good piece showing the real life consequences of Bush’s decision to suspend Davis-Bacon on post-hurricane reconstruction projects: A small, minority-owned business in New Orleans initially got a contract to provide electricians (to a larger, Alabama-based company working for Kellogg, Brown & Root). But the NOLA company, Knight Enterprises, hired local workers and paid union wages — $22.09 per hour, plus health benefits. Other companies, paying $14 an hour, with no benefits, came in, and Knight lost its contract. The local employees were replaced by out-of-state workers.

It gets worse:

An electrician and foreman with Knight Enterprises cried as he recounted how his team of workers were kicked out of government tents by an out-of-state firm and forced to sleep in their cars.

"Most of our workers, some of whom had lost their homes to the two hurricanes (Katrina and Rita), were sleeping in their personal vehicles and showering in a car wash located on base," Mike Moran said.

So much for helping Katrina’s victims.

Now, about the workers who have replaced the locals:

Housing for workers often lacks running water and contractors have failed to provide food, training and wage rates as promised, James Hale, vice president with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, told a policy conference of opposition Democrats in the US Senate.

In one case, workers had not been paid for three weeks and at another site there were allegations that security guards were mistreating laborers, said Hale, who supported his allegations with photographs.

Many of the out-of-state workers are, unfortunately, used to this kind of treatment, and facing problems of their own:

Local Hondurans, who comprise the city’s largest Latino population, report being the object of the anger from blacks and whites, who fear losing their livelihoods to low-wage Latino workers. Zapotec-speaking Oaxacan Indians walk the streets of New Orleans and elsewhere throughout Louisiana and Mississippi after being threatened with deportation and kicked off local military bases, where they worked for local contractors without getting paid.

Latinos in the Gulf region are being racially profiled by local and federal authorities, says Victoria Cintra of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, one of the only organizations addressing Latino immigrant concerns in the region. Cintra believes the Bush administration’s suspension of the Davis Bacon Act, which requires payment of prevailing wages, along with its temporary removal of documentation requirements on I-9 forms has strained race relations by lowering wages and fostering competition between groups.

"The Bush administration is inviting Latino workers to New Orleans and the south without creating conditions to protect them," says Cintra, who recently provided a tent to more than a dozen unpaid Oaxacan worker in New Orleans. "These workers are extremely vulnerable."

Senate Democrats are, to their credit, trying to publicize this outrage. The press is showing about as much interest as you might expect. Apparently there’s nothing here to make Anderson Cooper cry.