CommunityPam's House Blend

Slave wage, er, slavery, in the Gulf

Halliburton and its subcontractor KBR hired hundreds of undocumented Latino workers to clean up, treated them like animals, and threw them out without paying them.

[Welcome folks from C&L…;]

Slavery is alive and well if you’re an undocumented worker on the post-Katrina clean-up effort, according to a Salon article (day pass or registration req’d).

Folks were worried about low wages, no-bid contracts and general corruption in the Gulf region, but this is the height of immorality, courtesy of Bush/CheneyCo’s friends at Halliburton/KBR.

Arnulfo Martinez recalls seeing lots of hombres del ejercito standing at attention. Though he was living on the Belle Chasse Naval Base near New Orleans when President Bush spoke there on Oct. 11, he didn’t understand anything the ruddy man in the rolled-up sleeves was saying to the troops.

Martinez, 16, speaks no English; his mother tongue is Zapotec. He had left the cornfields of Oaxaca, Mexico, four weeks earlier for the promise that he would make $8 an hour, plus room and board, while working for a subcontractor of KBR, a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton that was awarded a major contract by the Bush administration for disaster relief work. The job was helping to clean up a Gulf Coast naval base in the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. “I was cleaning up the base, picking up branches and doing other work,” Martinez said, speaking to me in broken Spanish.

Even if the Oaxacan teenager had understood Bush when he urged Americans that day to “help somebody find shelter or help somebody find food,” he couldn’t have known that he’d soon need similar help himself. But three weeks after arriving at the naval base from Texas, Martinez’s boss, Karen Tovar, a job broker from North Carolina who hired workers for a KBR subcontractor called United Disaster Relief, booted him from the base and left him homeless, hungry and without money.

At least slaves picking cotton got a meal and a shack to live in. This is so base that it boggles the mind. As Blender and Julien’s List contributor ‘Bean said:

“After all, the last five years have shown American Values means the only people we put first are the ones we like – the ones in our OWN church, with our OWN speech pattern, with our OWN skin color, with our OWN orientation, right?”

But ‘Bean, you forgot the most critical factor: putting your rich base first is always the overriding concern in this corrupt, guilt-free Administration.

Roberto Lovato, the writer of this Salon article, continues, for those of you that doubt it’s really that bad:

Immigrants rights groups and activists like Bill Chandler, president of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, estimate that hundreds of undocumented workers are on the Gulf Coast military bases, a claim that the military and Halliburton/KBR deny — even after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency turned up undocumented workers in a raid of the Belle Chasse facility last month. Visits to the naval bases and dozens of interviews by Salon confirm that undocumented workers are in the facilities. Still, tracing the line from unpaid undocumented workers to their multibillion-dollar employers is a daunting task. A shadowy labyrinth of contractors, subcontractors and job brokers, overseen by no single agency, have created a no man’s land where nobody seems to be accountable for the hiring — and abuse — of these workers.

Other quotes:

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is also against the practice, citing its “serious social ramifications.” As he told Salon, it devastates “local workers who have been hit twice, because they lost their homes.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has been an outspoken critic of the use of undocumented workers at Belle Chasse and on other Katrina cleanup jobs, said in a recent statement, “It is a downright shame that any contractor would use this tragedy as an opportunity to line its pockets by breaking the law and hiring a low-skilled, low-wage and undocumented work force.”

…Texas-based DRS Cosmotech is another subcontractor that provided cleanup crews to Halliburton/KBR in the Gulf. Roy Lee Donaldson, CEO of the company, refused to respond to accusations of non-payment and exploitation leveled at his company by several workers, including 55-year-old Felipe Reyes of Linares, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. (Donaldson hung up the phone when I identified myself as a reporter.)

There is no accountability on this. It’s why outfits like Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch need to be on the case of this heinous story.

Here’s a little contact info:
Cosmotech Inc./Donaldson Restoration Services
2009 Dowling Drive
Richmond, TX 77469
(CMR 01251)

Cross-posted at Pandagon.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding