One Slice of the Post-Katrina World

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One Slice of the Post-Katrina World

Soon after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, columnist Robert Novak predicted that "the magic of commerce" would reinvigorate New Orleans' economy. I don't know if this was the business approach that Novak envisioned, but the Associated Press reports:
Immigrant workers recruited from South America and the Dominican Republic after Hurricane Katrina sued a prominent hotelier Wednesday, saying they are being exploited.

More than 80 workers from Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic have joined the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against Decatur Hotels LLC and its president and chief executive, F. Patrick Quinn III. The workers are employed in housekeeping, maintenance and other hotel support jobs in New Orleans.

Mary Bauer, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who helped file the lawsuit, said workers were lured by recruiters in their home countries with promises of high wages and steady work.
They spent $3,500 to $5,000 for travel and other expenses, which Bauer said Decatur Hotels had yet to reimburse ....

"They are hugely in debt. They say, 'We would have not have come if we had known the truth,' " Bauer said.

Luis Lopez, a room service employee from the Dominican Republic, said he's spent most of the last two months without the work hours he was promised. His last paycheck was for $18, far less than the $500 to $600 he expected to earn every two weeks or even the $325 he would have earned on the job he left in his home country.

... His wife, with whom he has three young children, is getting desperate as debt collectors swarm in and she can't buy food, Lopez said, crying as he held small photos pulled from his wallet.

... The lawsuit against Decatur, which operates luxury hotels including the Astor Crowne Plaza, says the company abused the H-2B visa program. Employers obtain such visas by certifying that no one in the United States can do the work.

The visas, which typically are good for less than a year, tie workers to the employer, so a worker may not take employment elsewhere even if working conditions are not as expected, a provision Bauer says indentures immigrant workers.
The only difference between this and the indentured servants of the 17th and 18th centuries is that these workers could choose to leave America and return home. Of course, they'd need money to do that, which none of them say they have so I guess there isn't much difference after all.

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