Monday, October 10, 2005

New Orleans: The Mexicans are here!

New Orleans: AP and LATIMES expand on earlier stories on the Latino workforce now coming into the Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans.

AP: "The message is clear on storefront marquees, brightly colored banners and the handwritten signs merchants taped inside windows across this battered city: businesses reopening after Hurricane Katrina have a surplus of jobs and not enough workers to fill them. The shortage is obvious at the city's fanciest hotels, where a lack of staff means maid service is offered just once a week. It is just as glaring at fast-food restaurants, where long lines of cars snake through parking lots because most have only enough workers to operate drive-through windows. It's virtually impossible to pass through any functioning part of town without seeing "Now Hiring" posted somewhere. The demand for workers is similarly dire on the Mississippi coast. "Two months ago if you were looking for a job, it probably wasn't that easy," said Darren Aucoin, manager of a Shoe Carnival store in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb that saw minimal flooding and was relatively quick to get power and water restored. "Now if you can't find a job, you're not trying." Burger King, which first reopened its New Orleans restaurants by busing kitchen crews about 80 miles from Baton Rouge, has now taken the unprecedented step of offering $6,000 bonuses to hourly employees agreeing to work full-time for at least a year in the metropolitan area. Most of the people who've been able to return to New Orleans have been either wealthy or in the middle class, in part because their neighborhoods were damaged the least -- leaving a hole for business owners who depend on unskilled labor. "The service industry and unskilled labor jobs are the ones really in demand and the people in that category have not come back," said John Trapani, a professor and vice dean at Tulane University's business school. "There will be a shortage of labor until population starts to return and who knows what percentage is going to return and when?" The demand by service businesses for workers is set against a parallel demand for people to work in hurricane cleanup. Some employers have turned to immigrant workers from Central and South America to fill those jobs. With thousands of people from Mississippi and New Orleans scattered across the country, scores of jobs remain open."

LATIMES: Immigrants Rush to New Orleans as Contractors Fight for Workers As many evacuees stay away, Latin American workers move in, lured by soaring pay. They could change the face of the city. By Peter Pae Times Staff Writer October 10, 2005 NEW ORLEANS — Most of the signs are handwritten and simply worded, such as "Workers Wanted" or "Need 50 Laborers Now!" Word has gotten out and each morning day laborers — who come from Central America and Mexico by way of California, Texas and Arizona — gather on street corners in the Kenner and Metairie neighborhoods on the western edge of the city. Lured by jobs paying $15 to $17 an hour, the Spanish-speaking day laborers have flooded into New Orleans to haul out debris, clear downed trees, put in drywall and perform other tasks as rebuilding takes hold in the city. Specialized roofers can make $300 a day. Contractors know the new day-labor pickup spots. By noon, a tree-trimming firm hires the last available hand on Williams Boulevard near Interstate 10. "We've never had Hispanic day laborer sites. That's a totally new phenomenon," said David Ware, a longtime New Orleans immigration lawyer. With 140,000 homes destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is undergoing the nation's largest reconstruction effort and its new workforce is largely Latino. No one knows how many immigrants have descended here since Katrina ravaged the city five weeks ago, but their presence is visible throughout the city

"....Known as a broker by contractors, Oro said he had 30 to 40 workers available each day for work. He provides housing and meals to the workers, who share a cut of their wages with him."I could use another 20 to 30 people," said Oro, who immigrated to New Orleans from Honduras in 1982. "I was making good money doing roofing, but this is better."Contractors say one advantage in using Oro is that they don't have to deal with paperwork or check to see whether the workers are in the U.S. legally."There is a 'don't ask, don't tell,' mentality right now," Custer said. He added that there didn't seem to be any effort to crack down on illegal immigrants. "If they do who will rebuild New Orleans?""We got people coming in from all over who are obviously Hispanic," said Romualdo Gonzalez, an immigration lawyer in New Orleans. "If you go downtown and see the crew cleaning up, 80% are Mexicans. "The influx of Latino workers is raising concern among city officials. Last week, Associated Press reported, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin asked local businesspeople, "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?"

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