Monday, June 17, 2024

Latino Workers Help Rebuild New Orleans but Face Wage Theft

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans five years ago, immigrant workers that flocked to the city to help rebuild continue to face the all too common problem of day laborers, wage theft.

After a Department of Homeland Security directive that suspended employment immigration enforcement in the area immediately following the hurricane, thousands of workers traveled to the city for the plentiful work involved in rebuilding.  Those workers continue to toil today, even under the threat of violence from employers and wage theft.

In one case, Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans, says a worker who demanded payment for his labor at a construction site was threatened by his employer with a hammer.  The first thing the police did after being called for help by the worker was to question his immigration status.

“These are the sort of situations that prevent day laborers from asking for help when their wages are denied,” Gonzalez said.

Even though the immigration directive did not last long, it still created an inviting environment for undocumented workers.

“Conditions were set to attract a labor force of Latino immigrants,” Elizabeth Fussell, a professor at Washington State University, said. “There was a large population of undocumented immigrants who were coming to do the work that was necessary in the city.”

The Latino population in the area has increased from 4.4 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent last year, according to Census Data.  The portion attributed to the influx of workers after Hurricane Katrina is not certain but social scientists say it does make up part of the number.

“After Katrina hit, there was much more work and much more wages for people — there were other wages to be found,” Gonzalez said.

Now, advocacy groups are calling for specific legislation to protect vulnerable workers, whether documented or not, from abusive pay practices and threats of violence.  A city ordinance is essential to combating a wage theft problem too big for advocates and undocumented workers to deal with on their own argue worker’s rights advocates.

“The workers need protection, they’re not getting it right now,” Ilana Scherl, an Oxfam field representative in New Orleans, said. “The only way we see to achieve that is to have a policy in place protecting the workers.”

Currently, the policy developed with the help of the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice, is being negotiated with the mayor’s office and other officials at city hall.  It is unclear whether the policy may be implemented but one New Orleans City Councilman, Arnie Fielkow, has said he would support a wage theft ordinance.

The advocates in New Orleans say there is concern that the anti-immigrant mood sweeping the nation may affect their effort to pass the ordinance.  However, they remain hopeful that the general goodwill many New Orleans residents feel toward the workers who helped rebuild their city will prevail.

“In this climate, the fear of opposition is always there,” Gonzalez said. “But New Orleans is a city that recognizes that day laborers did participate and did come to the rescue in terms of reconstruction.”

The Washington Independent


  1. It’s a shame that these workers aren’t given their due for helping alleviate one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the US.

  2. Just take it as them repaying for their five children and Cadillac Escalade we are paying for.

    I worked my ass off for years paid into our system, then when I needed help when I couldn’t work I was denied disability, Health care and unemployment. Guess who was behind the desk?

    Just my two cents 🙂

  3. Let me first say I have some Mexican in me but do not look like it. I have family that are Mexican some that hold green cards and do very well in our society. Nunja above is right to the T. If you don’t believe him go to the human resource office and see what kind of vehicles are in the parking lot then walk in and see who those vehicles belong to.

    I reached out for help and got back a denial letter. Went to the County Human Services Office to meet with a worker she was Mexican. From the get go I was treated like I didn’t belong there. I brought all my required information and for some reason my info never made it to who makes the decisions. I am now working on getting this woman fired for being racist and taking it up all the way to the top. Don’t play in to all the BS from the illegal immigrants. I have stories for days about these people. They are brought up and taught how to milk out society before they make their way over. They are taught how to impacting out transportation system and road ways, they are taught to pretend they do not know English so we have to provide an interpreter. This is just a couple of things they are taught to do. I have hired day laborers, negotiated pay before hand and when work was over I had these three guys saying that I was to pay them 10 dollars more an hour each. Didn’t last long when my finger was on my send button for 911. I paid these people what I told them I would pay them and told them they are lucky they aren’t in the back of an immigration truck right now. WHAT IF THEY PULLED THIS ON YOUR MOM? These people are from all walks of life, some good some bad. Family men just looking to make a buck, Catholics, Criminals, Killers,Drug Cartel etc. Some just don’t belong here at all! How do we prevent bad people from other counties in our society MAKE THEM GO THROUGH THE PROCESS OF GETTING THEIR GREEN CARD and become part of our society.

  4. My post is probably going to get erased also. It’s too bad we turn out heads at the truth. My full blooded Latino cousins that have their green cards take the same point of view.