Rally calls for oversight on workers’ rights

Workers, community organizations and members of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO marched and rallied at the city’s federal building May 2 to expose the rampant abuses of workers’ rights in the post-Katrina rebuilding, the AFL-CIO reported. The rally called for the creation of a workers’ rights commission to set standards for how workers are treated in the rebuilding of New Orleans.

“Companies are exploiting us, exposing us to hazards and walking away with their profits,” said Tiger Hamilton, president of the New Orleans AFL-CIO. “The people who are the heart and soul of New Orleans lost not only our homes and way of life after Katrina and Rita — we lost our security, our safety and our dignity.”

Larry Carter Jr., who represents both the United Teachers of New Orleans and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, called for opening the city’s public schools. “It is a horrible injustice that thousands of children are not being educated and thousands of teachers can no longer afford to do the work that they love,” he said. Teachers have lost not only their jobs and insurance, he noted, but also their collective bargaining rights.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, speaking to a conference of union lawyers before going to the march, outlined objections to the Bush administration and officials who, “instead of sending help, send mercenaries, bulldozers and real estate speculators” and “reward lawlessness as long as the criminal’s name ends in the letters ‘I-N-C.’”

— Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org)

Election blues

The right to vote remains displaced from New Orleans.

In what was billed as “the most important election in the history of New Orleans,” only 36 percent of those registered voted in the recent city elections. Turnout was heavy and high in the mostly prosperous and white areas of Uptown, where little damage occurred, and exceptionally low in the heavily damaged and mostly Black areas of New Orleans East, Gentilly and the 9th Ward — where some precincts reported as little as 15 percent voter participation.

The state refusal to set up satellite voting for those displaced outside the state resulted in exactly the disenfranchisement predicted.

While Iraqis who had not lived in Iraq in years were helped to vote in the U.S. by our government, people forced out of state by Katrina for seven months were not allowed to vote where they are temporarily living.

This has national implications. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that in the 2002 U.S. Senate seat runoff between incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell, the Orleans factor made the difference for Landrieu. The senator won Orleans by 78,900 votes, compared with her statewide lead of 42,012. In the 2003 gubernatorial runoff between Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal, Blanco won statewide by 54,874 votes. She won by a margin of 49,741 votes in New Orleans.

Worse, the systematic exclusion of the displaced gives fuel to those who do not want the poor to return and helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Low turnout in poor neighborhoods where the displaced could not drive back in to vote can now be taken as an indication of lack of interest and an excuse to further silence their voices. As the Washington Post noted: “How many people turned out to vote in each precinct was being viewed as an indicator of which neighborhoods are likely to be rebuilt; in many abandoned neighborhoods, people fear that residents who have left for good would not vote, revealing their lack of interest in the neighborhood and the city. Turnout could offer clues to the future racial makeup of the city.”

— Bill Quigley (quigley@loyno.edu). This is excerpted from Quigley’s “Eight Months After Katrina: Don’t Come Back to New Orleans Unless You Intend to Join the Fight for Justice!” available online at www.pww.org.

Contractors bilked taxpayers

While removing enough debris to cover Britain, contractors working on hurricane recovery have overbilled the government in a $63 billion operation that only will get more expensive, according to a House report released May 4.

Mileage claims were overstated to get extra fees, debris was mixed improperly to inflate prices and companies sent bills twice for removing the same loads, Democrats on the GOP-controlled House Government Reform Committee found.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who compiled the report for the hearing on Katrina contracting, also complained about layers of subcontractors that drove up costs.

In a story last October, The Associated Press reported instances in which the Katrina debris cleanup involved five layers of subcontractors. The Army Corps of Engineers refused to provide the cost figures specified in the master contracts and denied AP’s request for those figures, made under the Freedom of Information Act.

— Larry Margasak, Associated Press