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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Still more Halliburton-Katrina fallout

We knew it wouldn't be long before we started hearing about the Halliburton abuses in the Katrina cleanup. So now we can add slave labor to the company's growing roster of corporate evils.

It's bad enough that Halliburton cornered nearly all of the no-bid contracts in the Katrina cleanup (contracts which have remained almost inaccessible). But now, through various subcontractors under Halliburton/KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), they are luring undocumented workers from Mexico with promises of food, board and pay of $8 to $14 an hour for helping to clean up the Gulfport states devastated by Katrina. Understand, the $8 is pitiably lower than the $22 an hour that would have been paid to regular workers. Even so, it would have been nice if the contractor had held to its promise. But even now, the ill-used workers are fighting to get the monies promised them. Unfortunately, some are being threatened with deportation to keep them in check. Others have been ousted from the sites, left homeless and penniless.

How did all of this come about? Well, mostly thanks to the administration's initial suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act which required employers to pay prevailing wages for government contract projects (it was reinstated on November 3) and the rollback on I-9 eligibility documents requirement (reinstated this past October).

Workers promised decent hotel rooms find themselves living in tent cities and squalid trailers within proximity of toxic waste. Promised meals sometimes turn out to be nothing more than cookies. And needed medical assistance is summarily denied.

What is so interesting is that the various subcontractors working with KBR, including Tovar, which brokered the labor force by placing ads in Spanish-language newspapers and running ads on Spanish television, don't seem to know they have hired undocumented workers. KBR stresses that it is abiding by all governmental regulations and insist there are no undocumented workers on their sites, even though a recent raid has turned up many workers without the proper documentation. These men, mostly Mexican, but some Sri Lankans and Filipinos, have become the invisible labor force, the ones who are told, at the threat of deportation, not to leave their tents lest someone witness their presence.

Thankfully, the workers have an advocate in the form of Victoria Cintra, a born-again Cuban minister who has partnered with Oxfam America to help 73 workers receive the nearly $56,000 in unpaid wages they were supposed to receive through Katrina recovery dollars.

This is just the latest chapter of the stomach-turning Halliburton saga. Lord only knows how the epic will end. Hopefully with the elusive Goliath finally being brought down by the many Davids like Victoria Cintra who refuse to be daunted by the seemingly untouchable adversary.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 11/15/2005 10:48:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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