Katrina: Health and Safety of Latino Immigrant Workers

Reports

After the hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, Latino immigrant workers came from all over the country to clean and rebuild the devastated areas. Some were recruited by contractors; others, having heard jobs were plentiful, came of their own accord. Media coverage of the clean-up and reconstruction of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast featured images of workers in white protective suits wearing goggles, hard hats, and gloves, with captions describing how dangerous the work was.

What you rarely saw were images of immigrant workers gutting buildings, cleaning up debris and tearing out moldy sheetrock from flooded houses, mostly without protective gear. You didn't see the workers when they went “home” after work, only to sleep in the same clothes they worked in because “home” was in an abandoned car or a shelter with nowhere to wash. If you were to spend some time in the hurricane-affected areas, you would see workers sleeping out in the street or in soaking-wet tents, pitched in a muddy field at City Park—a privilege costing $300 a month, plus five dollars per shower every time they wanted to bathe.

In response to these reports, LOSH and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) undertook a joint project to investigate occupational health and safety issues particular to Latino migrant day laborers in the region. On behalf of the organizations, day laborer organizer/field researcher Tomás Aguilar traveled to the Gulf Coast to find out about the actual conditions facing immigrant workers, what was being done about them, and what possibilities existed for collaborating with other groups to improve conditions.