Gulf Watch: Department of Labor failed workers post-Katrina

Alternet posted an excellent piece this week on how in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the Bush Department of Labor failed to carry out its purported mission of protecting workers' welfare. Reports Brian Beutler with the Media Consortium:

The DOL has been in decline for a generation, suffering from long-term decreases in funding even as the number of people whose livelihoods it is supposed to protect has grown. Those problems have been exacerbated through the six and a half years of the Bush administration. But the consequences have never been more appalling than in New Orleans, where the failure of high-level DOL officials to require proactive oversight of reconstruction employers led to an endless string of abuses. After Katrina, employers, unfettered by rules, became less concerned with the task at hand than with profiting at the expense of workers without protection. They became predators in a lawless environment.

In the two years since the disaster, there have been thousands of testimonials -- issued to both government officials and private advocates -- about a wide taxonomy of abuses. The most frequent complaint workers cite is withheld wages, but almost as numerous are accusations of employee intimidation, toxic and hazardous working conditions, immigrant abuse, trafficking, exploitation and monetary extortion.

Beutler documents how many workers who filed wage and hour claims never got to meet with a DOL enforcement officer, never heard back from officials with whom they filed claims over the phone, and had claims inexplicably lost or destroyed. With the two-year statute of limitations running out on many of the claims, he writes, "a great bulk of the infractions will have become permanent injustices by 2008."

To read the full story, click here.