Levees ‘in name only,’ says report

The Army Corps of Engineers released its report June 1 outlining the massive failure of the levees system. “The hurricane protection in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only.”

The 6,000-plus-page document included details on engineering and design failures that led to the storm surge overwhelming the city’s outer levees and breaking through flood walls within New Orleans, putting 80 percent of the city underwater.

More than 1,570 people died in New Orleans from the storm and flood. The 2006 hurricane season began June 1.

AFL-CIO invests $1 billion for affordable housing

The AFL-CIO plans to invest $1 billion to develop 10,000 affordable homes and a new downtown hotel in New Orleans.

The investment is the labor coalition’s most ambitious funding project ever. It also is one of the largest yet for New Orleans and seeks to bring new housing to a city where Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

The money will come from the AFL-CIO’s 40-year-old Housing Investment Trust, which invests worker pensions in affordable housing and requires union labor on the projects.

In addition, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO is designing a new workforce development program in the region. Together, the programs will create new construction and hotel jobs, and job training opportunities for area residents.

Extend jobless benefits for 80,000 workers

On June 4, over 80,000 unemployed workers in the Gulf Coast region were cut off from jobless benefits, including some 13,000 in Mississippi and another 68,000 in Louisiana. Weekly unemployment checks in Louisiana average just $104. The Katrina Information Network urged supporters to call their senators right away, pressing them to support S 3030, a bill to extend jobless benefits by 13 weeks for Gulf Coast families.

Public housing residents reclaim apartments

Public housing residents from New Orleans were forced to take matters into their own hands June 10. Residents from the Florida Housing Development returned to their apartments to continue the cleanup that the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) has so far refused to do. Tens of thousands are still without permanent, secure and affordable housing. Survivors Village, in the 3800 block of St. Bernard Avenue, was set up to serve as a temporary center for residents to challenge the unfair practices of HANO.

Undocumented face abuse, hazardous conditions

Undocumented immigrant workers helping to rebuild New Orleans are working in hazardous conditions without protective gear and earning far less than their legal counterparts, a study says.

Nearly one-third of the undocumented immigrants interviewed by researchers reported working with harmful substances and in dangerous conditions, while 19 percent said they were not given any protective equipment, according to the study by professors at Tulane University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Immigrants without legal papers also were paid significantly less than their legal counterparts, earning on average $10 an hour, compared with $16.50 for documented workers, the study says.

Many of the immigrant workers were lured to New Orleans by contractors’ promises of jobs and high wages. Because so many are here illegally, the study says, they are especially vulnerable to exploitation and violations of labor law.

The study estimates that one-quarter of the construction workers in New Orleans are undocumented.

Gulf Coast Update is compiled by Terrie Albano (talbano@pww.org).