As spill kills jobs BP nickels and dimes victims

As oil continues gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting environmental and economic catastrophes worsen, BP is dragging its feet on the damage claims.

There are reports that BP has sent $46 million in checks so far to some 17,500 Gulf Coast residents for their lost income.

Boat owners interviewed by the Peoples World say that what BP is paying is not nearly enough and that the company is dragging its feet on making payments.

BP admits that it has not paid out at least 17,500 claims, what it says are half the total it has received thus far, because of “questions about documentation.”

That claim is merely a ruse, local fishermen tell the World, because the company is aware that Gulf fishing is largely a cash business.

Many of the fishermen interviewed by the World work in the building and construction trades half the year or whenever they can get such work and look forward to the summer season when they can make the cash they need to survive. “You can’t pay your bills, fix up the house, send the kids to school, recover from Katrina and do everything else you need to do to survive without that extra money during fishing season,” said Chet Held, a life long Louisiana fisherman and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Held said that people in southern Louisiana are used to being cheated on damage claims. His entire house, except for the top 13 inches and the roof, were underwater after Katrina. “Whatever wasn’t washed away was then covered with oil leaking from a ruptured Murphy Oil tank,” he said. “I had all I could do to keep my son from losing his cool when the insurance adjustor said he couldn’t do anything for us because we didn’t have receipts. ‘Here’s your receipt,’ my son said, pointing to the rubble all around us.”

When President Obama visited the Gulf on Friday, he said he did not want to hear that BP was “nickel and diming fishermen or small businesses who are having a hard time while spending billions of dollars on dividends and millions of dollars on advertising.”

BP has drawn fire for its multi-million dollar newspaper, radio and TV ad campaign.

BP CEO Tony Hayward said of the spill this week, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their (people of the Gulf region) lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “Hayward doesn’t need to be telling people in the Gulf that he’d like his life back. There’s 11 people that we’d all like to have their lives back that were killed the very first night of this incident. And the harm that’s being done there will take years to fix. We will hold BP responsible throughout the process.”

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, has proposed that beyond damages for lost income BP should pay for creating cleanup jobs. “The president,” said Reich, “shpuld order BP to establish a $5 billion clean-up fund, and immediately put America’s army of unemployed young peo[ple to work saving the Gulf coast. Call it the new Civilian Conservation Corps.”

The government is warning that no one should expect a quick end to the crisis.

Coast Guard commander Thad Allen said “the only solution to the problem would be the successful completion of relief wells to finally stop the flow from the bottom of the 18,000 foot deep well, a job that will not be completed until August, at the earliest. The spill will not be contained until that happens.

“But even after that,” he warned, “There will be oil there for months to come. This will be well into the fall.”

Meanwhile, there has been a large shift in opinion against coastal drilling in a new Political Wire poll. Fifty-one percent of people believe offshore drilling is “too risky” with 40 percent still in favor. That is an enormous change from August 2008, when 62 percent of people favored increased offshore drilling. The new poll also shows that just as many people now view the spill as part of a broader problem as consider it an isolated incident.

Photo: Fishermen who own boats like the one here in Ycloskey, La. say BP is dragging its feet on damage claims. Blake Deppe/PW


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.