|New Orleans laborers take low-pay work in post-Katrina city|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 08 January 2008 11:33|
Temporary workers, many with limited job opportunities and substandard housing, accepted the $8.00-an-hour wage to mop up the spilled beer and nacho cheese that stained the aisles after Monday's BCS Championship game. They are happy for the work in the struggling city, they said, but many ache for normalcy to return.
``I think we're still going through a disaster,'' said Kalvin McCrimmon, a roofer by trade who said many rebuilding jobs have been taken by out-of-town firms, or Latino immigrants willing to accept working conditions and pay he will not.
``Things like this game help the city. In some ways it helps me,'' he said, explaining that a lack of better jobs had driven him to the clean up crew for the first time. ``But instead of taking the jobs we can do, we're taking what we can get.''
The Superdome is a model of what the New Orleans can accomplish despite the widespread destruction of Hurricane Katrina, which submerged 80 percent of New Orleans in 2005. It has gone from evacuation center of the disaster to a centerpiece of its the city's resurgence.
But the work crews deal with many of the issues that continue to frustrate the Katrina recovery. The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center found that the unemployment rate has improved from 5.3 percent to 4.5 percent since the storm, but fair market rent has risen 46 percent, and large patches of the area abandoned.
About 350 workers like McCrimmon scoured the 269,000 square-foot dome after the event, supervisors said. Their shifts began at 11 p.m., and continued overnight while much of the city celebrated the game. The workers wandered out of the dome at 5:30 a.m. and will not log as many hours now that football season is over. They also cleaned up after New Orleans Saints games.
Superdome managers declined to grant access to the building for interviews with the work force. But as groups of about a dozen workers milled outside, they explained the cleanup routine and job site culture that has developed.
``Almost everything is done by hand,'' said Charles Ordel, who watched the final seconds of LSU's victory on television, then walked out his door to work at the dome. ``You put on your latex gloves. You put your trash (bag) at the end of each aisle and you clear section-by-section.''
Another worker who asked that his name not be used said anything of value left behind by fans is kept for profit. The low pay is his justification for pilfering, he said, offering to sell two Blackberries that he found after a previous event.
Superdome spokesman Bill Curl said any Superdome worker who doesn't deposit items to a lost and found is fired, and the same rule applies to the temp agencies. ``We expect the contractor to abide by our policies,'' Curl said.
Long timers like Arnold Covington, who has worked the cleanup crew on and off for 11 years, frowned upon workers who kept valuables. ``The crew was a lot better before'' Katrina, he said.
Covington said the city's climbing rent drove him into a two-bedroom apartment that he shares with four people. The strain of losing his house to seven feet of water during Katrina, he said, was the breaking point for an already troubled marriage. She moved away, but he chose to stay in his hometown of 33 years.
``It's the right direction,'' Covington said of high-profile events like the BCS game, and the attention they draw to the city. ``But it's not always helping us.''