Joining in the Laborers’ response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the LHSFNA shifted into high gear this month to help ensure that the clean-up and reconstruction effort will be conducted as safely as possible. Those efforts now will also help in the devastation delivered by Hurricane Rita, as well as future storms.

“Clean-up has different risks than reconstruction,” says LHSFNA OSH Associate Director Walter Jones, who coordinated the Fund’s immediate response to the hurricane. “Downed power lines, poisonous snakes and, especially in the flooded areas of New Orleans, toxic water, mold and mildew are the greatest hazards in clean-up. As reconstruction efforts begin, the hazards will be similar to those experienced on any other construction project. Whichever the situation, however, the hazards are magnified by the chaotic nature of the general situation and the pressure to get the work moving. On-the-scene training will be at a minimum. Though Laborers are well-trained, they may be working with or around others who are not. We needed to do something that would easily refresh our members’ knowledge and help them assert more safety and health leadership in the field.”

The Laborers – and other union workers – were heroic in their response to the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Center in New York. “However,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni who, also, is Labor Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA, “in the weeks after 9/11, many rescue and recovery workers, relying on EPA air quality assurances, worked without proper safety protections. Today, some evidence symptoms of serious respiratory illness. Few of these were Laborers, who were generally well-trained and adequately prepared. Now, as we move to help the people of the Gulf Coast, we want to take precautions and maintain our record. Laborers will be a cornerstone in the clean-up and reconstruction effort, and we need to work as safely as possible under the circumstances.”

The obvious way for the LHSFNA to help was the preparation of a special set of health alert cards that review the health and safety issues now prevalent in hurricane clean-up and reconstruction. Using the Fund’s traditional cards as a starting point, the OSH and Health Promotion staffs revised some cards and drafted several new ones. Dubbed “Katrina Kards,” a total of 22 special alerts were prepared, printed and shipped to the affected region. Now, retitled more generally as “Hurricane Alerts,” a new batch is being prepared for shipment in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.

The alerts were sent to the LIUNA locals in Alabama and Louisiana that were designated, by the International, to serve as processing centers both for local Laborers in need of assistance for themselves and their families and for Laborers coming into the region to join in the clean-up and reconstruction efforts.

In addition to the health alerts, the Fund sent supplies of lip balm and SPF 30 sunscreen for solar protection.

Although, famously, one of the first government contracts went to non-union Halliburton, many LIUNA signatory contractors are in line for large-scale reconstruction projects. Among these is Boh Brothers, which bid on, received and signed a contract to rebuild the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain. The contractor will work 24 hours a day until the job is done. Fluor and Bechtel also have signed new contracts as similar, intensified efforts are being launched on a daily basis. Overall, the Katrina clean-up and reconstruction effort promises to be the largest public works project in American history.

Laborers who are interested in employment in this effort should contact one of the designated processing centers:

LIUNA Local Union 70 (Mobile): 251-432-0564
LIUNA Local Union 1177 (Baton Rouge): 225-383-2464

For more information about the hurricane health alerts, contact the Fund’s OSH or Health Promotion Divisions.

[Steve Clark]