Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More Davis-Bacon act talk in New Orleans.

Nation: The suspension doesn't seem to be creating slave wages as some would put it.

Prevailing wages Neither Bravo nor Luna would discuss their legal status, but in other ways their experience seemed atypical. Many more laborers are part of crews who have worked with subcontracting companies like Full Scope after past hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Those companies have the men's contact information in their Rolodexes; they bring the crews here and put them up. Alfonso Lopez, 22, a roofer also staying at the Days Inn but working for different companies, said he and other laborers are making about $12 a yard, the unit of payment for putting up the familiar blue tarps on damaged roofs. "On many days, I'm making more than $300," Lopez said. "I'm going to stay about one month more, and I'll have made a lot of money here." Rojas, too, is paying his workers reasonably well, and despite the hardship of their living quarters at the London Lodge the crew seemed relatively jolly one day last week. "It's dark at night, there's mosquitoes -- it's like camping," one of them said when asked about the conditions. Rojas has a gas grill for the crews to cook with, and he brings in water. The pay, which ranges from $14 to $17 an hour, is good, despite complaints from several activist organizations that the workers are getting stiffed. "There is a myth out there that these guys are getting paid substandard wages," said David Ware, a prominent immigration lawyer in New Orleans who has temporarily relocated to Baton Rouge. "In fact, most of them are making very good money, close to the prevailing wage or above and there is plenty of work." Fears the labor market would be flooded with underpaid Latino workers were stoked on Sept. 8 when Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, a legislative relic from the Great Depression that was designed in part to lock African-American workers out of job sites but has since morphed into a pro-labor law that requires union rates be the scale. But the prevailing wage for construction labor in New Orleans was about $9 an hour before Katrina, according to federal figures, so the money being paid to drywallers and roofers is above the old norm.

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