Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fair-pay provision for post-Katrina construction workers reinstated
Your signatures and congressional pressure bring victory for workers and their families

Under pressure from both Democrats and moderate Republicans, President Bush relented on his revocation of the fair-pay provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantee the prevailing regional wage to workers engaged in rebuilding efforts after a federally designated disaster. From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will reinstate rules requiring that companies awarded federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina pay prevailing wages, usually an amount close to the pay scales in local union contracts.

The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.
A great deal of credit for the turnabout belongs to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who deployed a little-known parliamentary maneuver in the House that ultimately forced the president's hand. Here, from Jonathan Tasini at The Working Life:
Here's what I hear from my Capitol Hill sources: the president, who suspended the Davis Bacon provisions that guarantee people working on federal contracts are paid the prevailing wage, was concerned that he not be seen as caving in to Democrats. The Dems were lead by Rep. George Miller, who used a little known parliamentary motion to force a vote on the suspension.

Under pressure, Bush agreed to rescind the suspension by December 8th. But at least one Republican said that he would vote for the Miller resolution if the suspension was not lifted earlier. And no question that the fact that the Building Trades put pressure on Congressional Republicans (37 signed the letter to Bush supporting the reinstatement of Davis Bacon) helped. In any case, Bush caved. The suspension will be lifted on November 8th.

Brownie still doin'
a heck of a job

When assessing the characteristics of the Bush Administration, the answer to the question, "Do they have no shame?", has been granted definitively. No, they do not. How else to explain the extension of ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown's contract by an additional 30 days? Herewith, from the Associated Press (via

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday defended FEMA’s decision to extend former director Michael Brown’s post-resignation employment by another 30 days.

“It’s important to allow the new people who have the responsibility ... to have access to the information we need to do better,” Chertoff told The Associated Press as he flew to view Hurricane Wilma’s damage in Florida.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Where are the jobs?

From the Associated Press comes this sobering piece on how the scandal of FEMA's no-bid contracts to favored corporations for contruction projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is exacerbating the distrust of government, born of FEMA's feckless respose to the disaster, among many of New Orleans' African-Americans:

[T]he acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pledged that millions of dollars of government contracts initially awarded without bids will be reopened for bidding.

But there has been no guarantee those contract reconstruction jobs will go to New Orleanians who desperately need the work and money.

"People we talked to down there said jobs, jobs, jobs," [Mike] Davis[, a writer and historian who recently returned from New Orleans] says. "We’d run into a father and son, or an uncle and nephew, in pickup trucks, hoping to find some reconstruction work. They’re baffled that a month later, there are no real jobs."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Seven dollars too much for Gulf Coast workers, says Pres. Bush

Brendan Danaher, AFGE's point man on the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, calls our attention to this item on TPM Cafe by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has offered a resolution that would restore the fair wage protections, rescinded by President Bush, for the contruction workers who will rebuild the cities and towns of the Gulf Coast. Under a bill known as the Davis-Bacon Act, workers hired to rebuild after a disaster are guaranteed the prevailing wage in the region in which the disaster took place.

Here's Congressman Miller:
Every single House Democrat, 37 House Republicans, and one House independent are on record opposing the President's Gulf Coast wage cut - a clear majority of the House of Representatives. But Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow a vote to overturn the wage cut. Now it looks like they have no choice.

I was able to determine that, under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, I am able to force a vote within 15 calendar days of introducing a "Joint Resolution" - which I did at noon today. In this case, that means that if Congress doesn't act by Friday, November 4, I can go to the House floor and demand a vote on my resolution. Congress then has three days to schedule that vote.

So the bottom line is this: by the first or second week of November, there will be a vote on whether or not construction workers who are rebuilding the Gulf Coast will get a fair wage for their labor.
Note that we're not talking about some high-bottom wage here. In the Gulf Coast region, we're talking about a wage around $7.00 an hour. That's right: $7.00 to handle materials imbued with toxins and covered in mold. Seven dollars an hour to haul lumber, power tools, slop buckets--and who knows what else--around construction sites. Seven dollars an hour to risk life and limb in an environment so changed that its present constitution remains a mystery even to the experts. For this, President Bush thinks $7.00 per hour is too much.

If we've succeeded in making you mad as hell, please sign the petition being circulated by the AFL-CIO's Working Families network. And call your representative in Congress, and demand that he or she vote for Congressman Miller's resolution.

To read Rep. Miller's piece on TPM Cafe, click here.

Click here
to sign a petition demanding a fair wage for Gulf Coast workers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

FEMA's Political Appointees Shown Fiddling
While New Orleans Drowned

E-mails sent between former FEMA Director Michael Brown and his staff paint a devastating portrait of callous and careless leadership during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, according to a story today at

Ahead of Katrina coming ashore, Brown's deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, dismissed the idea of the White House creating an interagency crisis group to manage the government's response.

"Let them play their little raindeer [sic] games as long as they are not turning around and tasking us with their stupid questions," Altshuler said in an August 28 e-mail.
Meanwhile, veteran FEMA employee and AFGE member Leo Bosner began clanging an alarm bell, but to no avail, days before the storm made landfall. Here's an account from News Inferno:
Three days before Hurricane Katrina hit eastern Louisiana, Leo Bosner, a 26-year FEMA employee, issued a serious warning to his superiors. “We told these fellows that there was a killer hurricane heading right toward New Orleans," Bosner told CNN. "We had done our job, but they didn't do theirs."

His alert stated, " New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level. If the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city."
For more on Leo Bosner's attempts to move his superiors to action, click here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Context for a disaster

Brendan Danaher, an issues mobilization specialist at AFGE headquarters and our point man on Hurricane Katrina, has drawn our attention to this provocative piece by George Lakoff and John Halpin at The American Prospect Online. Here Lakoff, author of the bestselling Don't Think of an Elephant, and Halpin examine the conversatives' framing of their issues in the context of Hurricane Katrina, and offer suggestions to progressives on how to make the case for good and humane government in the context of the storm's aftermath. Indeed, they lament that the right has seized the opportunity to make its case via the catastrope, while progressives could well miss this boat.

Here are Lakoff and Halpin, in their own words:

Whoever succeeds in framing Katrina will have enormous power to shape America’s future. Progressives started out with the framing advantage, because empathy, responsibility, and fairness are what progressives are about. Conservatives started out with a big disadvantage, because they promised to protect us and they failed.

But the conservatives filled the framing gap so quickly and effectively that, if progressives don’t respond immediately, conservatives may be able to parlay this disaster into an even greater power grab than they made out of September 11.
On government:
Government is not the problem. Conservative government is the problem. The Bush administration’s actions have only reinforced the need for smart government that protects the public good, not an anti-government ideology that puts private interests above common needs. Relentless budget cuts and misplaced policy priorities left vital government response capabilities uncoordinated, stripped of critical funding, and in the hands of political novices. These were the results of deliberate decisions by our nation’s conservative leaders following the failed principle that less government is always better. When America needed its officials to step up to the challenge of a massive disaster, conservative government let us down.
On values, a favorite topic of the right:
The tragedy of Katrina was a matter of values and principles. The heart of progressive values is straightforward and clear: empathy (caring about and for people), responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy), and fairness (providing opportunities for all and a level playing field from which to start). These values translate into a simple proposition: The common wealth of all Americans should be used for the common good and betterment of all Americans. In short, promoting the common good so that we can all benefit -- and focusing on the public interest rather than narrow individual gain -- is the central role of government. These are not just progressive values. They are America’s values.
To read the complete article, "Framing Katrina," click here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cleaning the waters
AFGE members deploy cutting-edge equipment

photo courtesy TARDEC

TARDEC team member Mark Silbernagel installs the intake on a state-of-the-art water purification system.

The great irony of great floods, such as those produced by Hurriances Katrina and Rita, is that communities under water find themselves with no drinkable--also known as potable--water. (In the words of the Ancient Mariner, "Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.")

Here AFGE National Representative Joe Dolan (7th District) reports on the deployment of AFGE members from an Army local based in Detroit to the Gulf Coast to install cutting-edge water purification equipment designed by their agency, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC). Photographs are courtesy of TARDEC. The majority were shot by TARDEC employees
Mark Miller and Drew Downing.

Several engineers from the U.S. Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC), represented by AFGE Local 1658, are assisting FEMA in the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort. Just days after the hurricane hit, they deployed to the Gulf region, providing clean drinking water using newly developed water purification equipment. TARDEC is the nation’s laboratory for advanced military automotive technology, including petroleum and water systems. TARDEC has developed state-of-the-art water purification systems that clean and desalinate salt water, and purify contaminated water.

photo courtesy TARDEC
A 100,000-gallon-per-day Expedi- tionary Unit, Water Puri- fication (EUWP) System is installed on the deck of the dam- aged Hard Rock Casino, providing potable water to Mississippi's Biloxi Regional Medical Center.

AFGE Local 1658 Members Don Roberts and Jeremy Walker and their co-workers Bob Shalewitz, Drew Downing, Kevin Oehus, Mark Miller, Scott Nielsen, and Mark Silbernagel, have set up and are operating and maintaining the following systems:

• A 100,000-gallon-per-day Expeditionary Unit, Water Purification (EUWP) System on the deck of the damaged Hard Rock Casino, providing potable water to the Biloxi Regional Medical Center in Biloxi, Mississippi.

• Another 100,000 gallon-per-day EUWP System in Pascagoula, Mississippi, providing potable water to one of the cruise ships being used in the relief effort.

• A 1,500-gallon-per-hour Tactical Water Purification System (TWPS) at Buccaneer State Park near Waveland, Mississippi, providing water for a 200-unit RV park occupied by employees of the city of Waveland, Miss.

• Two 600-gallon-per-hour reverse osmosis water purification Units (ROWPU) in Waveland, Mississippi; one for providing water to a U.S. Air Force shower facility for relief workers and evacuees, and the other providing potable water to charitable relief organizations.
The TARDEC Associates are working alongside the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation engineers, with support from the Army’s 38th Infantry Division. "We are pleased that this emerging technology will be put to use helping the local residents who have suffered from the effects of the most devastating hurricane in this county’s history, said TARDEC Director Dr. Richard McClelland, a member of AFGE Local 1658. "Years of research, design and engineering have gone into the development of this technology so that it can be helpful in such a critical [time as] today."

--Joe Dolan