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Published: Fall, 2005; Vol 7, Num 3

Why Pit Safety against Profit?

Unlike the WTC disaster, the Katrina catastrophe invoked an on-going spat of name-blaming about who was at fault for the crisis, especially that which ensued after the storm passed, when the levees in New Orleans broke.

A variety of local, state and national government departments and agencies had roles to play, and some “leaders” bit the dust, most notably the FEMA director and the chief of the New Orleans police.

Though many of the criticisms and battles follow the lines of the nation’s political polarization, some pit the interests of expediency and profit against the interests of safety and health, at least from the perspective of LIUNA and its signatory employers.

  • The suspended enforcement of immigration rules allows unscrupulous contractors to use vulnerable, undocumented workers while cutting corners on safety and health to maximize profit.

  • The relegation of OSHA to advisory capacity with regard to health and safety on clean-up projects allows non-union contractors to flaunt regulations to enhance profits.

  • The suspension of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rules in the region undermines health and safety by allowing wage competition at levels well below what trained, safety-consciousness union workers typically earn.

Under pressure from House Democrats, some Republicans, religious leaders and unions, President Bush rescinded his suspension of Davis-Bacon on November 8. That is the same date on which Representative George Miller (D – CA) had successfully scheduled a vote on the President’s suspension. Accepting he would lose, “President Bush finally realized that his Gulf Coast wage cut was a bad idea that hurt the workers and their families affected by Katrina," said Miller.

Commenting on the administration’s approach to these three issues, Noel C. Borck, Executive Vice President of the NEA – the Association of Union Constructors and Management Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA, said, “In each of these areas – immigration law, on-the-job safety regulation and prevailing wage rules – reasonable standards exist that help ensure basic safety for workers across our country. We only compound a disaster when we choose, expediently, to ignore these well-established guidelines. Nevertheless, despite these suspensions and their fundamental unfairness, LIUNA’s signatory employers and its members are doing everything they can to help the people of the Gulf Coast region regain their strength and vitality.”

[Steve Clark]