By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Apparently nothing, not even the greatest natural disaster in the history of the U.S., is allowed to get in the way of GOP President George W. Bush's anti-worker and anti-union crusade. His latest move: To cut construction workers' wages for reconstruction projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Bush's Sept. 8 ruling came in an executive order, eliminating the prevailing wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act on the grounds of the "national emergency" caused by the hurricane's devastation.
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney was mad.
"At a time when Hurricane Katrina exposed the gaping hole of economic inequality and the shortcomings of our nation's infrastructure, it is unbelievable and outrageous that the White House would lift the time-tested standard for insuring quality work and decent living standards for taxpayer-financed reconstruction," he declared.
"Employers are all too eager to exploit workers. This is no time to make that easier. What a double tragedy it would be to allow the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to depress living standards even further," he added.
Though Sweeney did not say so, Louisiana, Alabama and especially Mississippi are at or near the bottom of national income figures. And the poverty rate in New Orleans is close to 30 percent - double the national average. The poor, most of them minorities, were the hardest-hit and suffered the most losses in the hurricane.
"Taking advantage of a national tragedy to get rid of a protection for workers the corporate backers of the White House have long wanted to remove is nothing less than profiteering," Sweeney said. "Congress must reverse this short-sighted action."
AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan said suspending Davis-Bacon protections for financially distressed workers in Gulf states "amounts to legalized looting of these workers who will be cleaning up toxic sites and struggling to rebuild their communities while favored contractors rake in huge profits from FEMA reconstruction contracts."
Sullivan added: "This is a shameful action and a national disgrace."
Rebuilding New Orleans, Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., and other areas of the Gulf Coast stretching from Louisiana through the western edge of the Florida Panhandle is expected to take years and cost billions of dollars. Congress has already approved at least $60 billion for immediate needs.
The Port of New Orleans and three U.S. shipyards--which are unionized--need reconstruction, as does Interstate 10, other major highways, sewers, the Mississippi River levees and other infrastructure.
Section 6 of the Davis-Bacon Act permits such waivers, according to the Radical Right so-called Americans for Tax Reform.