The Boston Progressive - Under The Fold

Recycled news and (hopefully) original commentary from a New England Progressive perspective -- the full text of items shown on the main page

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Game Remains The Same

There was outrage at the order suspending federal "prevailing wage" rules for government contractors in there wake of hurricane Katrina, with supporters saying it will get the government more "bang for the buck" and opponents decrying the exploitation of the work force that desperately needs work.

My own opinion leans towards the latter view, with the thought that if you want to get the most for the dollar (if that is to be the primary deciding basis) just bring back debtors prisons and chattel slavery.

At least be honest about what the motivation is -- it isn't really about getting the most effort for the government's dollar, it's about getting the most profit for the "connected" companies. Not far behind the no-bid and sole-source contracts are the "recruiters" who are bringing the migrant and undocumented workers to the reconstruction efforts, and the conditions are as expected, as is the deception, when the "usual suspects" are involved.

From an item in the Boston Globe:

GULFPORT, Miss. -- There's gold along the storm-racked Gulf Coast, where jobs are plentiful, pay is good, and billions of dollars of reconstruction aid are practically dripping from the trees. At least that's what some labor contractors are telling migrant and foreign workers, who are trickling into devastated fields and construction sites from as far away as Florida and Mexico.

But like the fabled streets paved with gold of immigration lore, the promising job market along the Gulf Coast can be illusory. While opportunities abound, many workers are finding a harsh and inhospitable environment, according to their advocates in Florida.

''There's not any housing, even for the people who are from there," said Tirso Moreno, director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, who toured coastal Mississippi to assess working conditions. ''Some labor contractors will bring our people up for two or three weeks of work and then leave them there. Sometimes they are paid too little and sometimes not at all. There's nothing they can do to fight it."

Seventeen migrant workers from Fort Pierce, Fla., learned Friday that two weeks of hard work does not always translate into promised pay. The men had left construction jobs on promises of as much as $150 a day. ''There's a lot of work here. We could go days without working in Florida but there's a lot of work here," said the group's leader, Michael Olvera, 36, as he waited for the van to take him and the others to where they were staying.

While Olvera and the others were promised large apartments and plenty of food, they are living on a Frisbee golf course, in small tents orout in the open without electricity or running water. After two weeks of fixing roofs, carrying plasterboard, and doing everything else that comes with helping restore a storm-torn region, Rafael Jarra, the man who brought them from Fort Pierce in a blue van, paid them $300 each -- one fifth of what they wereexpecting.

Jarra denied promising the men $150 a day and said there was not as much work as anticipated. ''They are angry that they have to live here," he said, pointing to the makeshift camp.

I'd be upset too, both at being cheated of my pay and at being forced to live in those conditions.

But this is actually just an extension of the existing problem that migrant and undocumented workers have faced in Florida, where the South Florida building boom is being made possible largely through the labor of these same workers. But the work isn't always there, so the workers are susecptible to "offers" such as what Olvera took.

Read the full article for more details.


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