During the House of Representative's Oct. 7 Small Business Committee hearing on “Small Businesses and Katrina: Rebuilding the Economy,” Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., urged members of Congress to encourage President Bush to repeal his Sept. 8 decision to suspend the Davis-Bacon Act — the 1931 federal law that requires federal contractors to pay their employees the prevailing wage in their communities for the work being done — for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. According to Congresswoman Sanchez, under the Act's suspension, contractors are allowed to pay sub-par wages and import workers from other parts of the country to rebuild the region. She cites the recent dismissal of 75 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 130, based in Metairie, La., in conjunction with Hurricane Katrina relief work as an example.
These workers have publicly stated that they were dismissed by Birmingham, Ala.-based contractor BE&K four weeks into a $163 million, 21-month project wiring a “tent city” to house 15,000 military personnel at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse, La. According to the workers' testimony, they later found out that BE&K allegedly replaced them with out-of-state workers who could be paid $14 per hour, in contrast to the prevailing $28 per hour union wage, including benefits.
In a letter to The Times-Picayune, Mike Goodrich, chairman and CEO of BE&K, denied that the company had replaced any electricians in Louisiana with “lower-paid workers from out of state.” Goodrich also asserted that workers on disaster relief projects in the Gulf Coast for BE&K are “from states impacted by the hurricanes.”
However, a recent report from the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., claims that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency detained 100 temporary contract workers at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station on possible immigration violations. At least 10 workers have been denied access to the base after ICE determined they were not authorized to work in the United States. No arrests have been made, pending further investigation. Landrieu requested the investigation by ICE after receiving complaints that the 75 workers on the base began to question whether their replacements were in the United States legally.
Susan Wasley, a BE&K spokeswoman, confirmed that ICE agents examined BE&K personnel documents for its Belle Chasse workforce. “I am confident that our employees have met the federal employment eligibility requirements,” Wasley said.