The NAACP says BP’s hiring process has kept people of color out of the burgeoning oil spill cleanup industry in the Gulf Coast and the group has called on BP CEO Tony Hayward to rectify the problem. In a July 10 letter, NAACP president Ben Jealous also told Hayward that people of color who do get hired are getting stuck with tougher, lower-paying cleanup work.
Black Voices reports that less than 5 percent of the $53 million in cleanup contracts awarded so far has gone to people of color-owned businesses. The NAACP also said that BP has been hiring workers from out-of-state to take over cleanup work, which has taken away precious employment opportunity from locals, the AP reported. (Rest assured, the local police already called up ICE to poke around cleanup sites and make sure there were no undocumented immigrants among the bunch.)
But cleaning up the oil spill is not enviable work. It says much about the Gulf Coast’s dismal economic climate when people have to fight over jobs in a toxic stew. Sure, billions of dollars are being spent on cleanup efforts, but the pay itself is not lucrative, and the risks associated with exposure to the poisonous dispersants and oil are significant. Back in May, cleanup work was temporarily halted after dozens of workers in both Louisiana and Alabama fell ill, reporting difficulty breathing, nausea and dizziness. And in the weeks right after the spill, local environmental groups raised concerns that cleanup workers were not being sent out with appropriate safety equipment, and were even forbidden to bring their own respirators with them. Those who brought along their own safety gear were threatened with job termination.
As Trinh Le, an organizer with the Hope Community Redevelopment Agency in Biloxi told me at the time, “The entire region is built on the fishing industry.” Le said that many men used to work work in the multi-million dollar fishing, shrimping and oyster industries, while many women worked in the canning and processing factories. And those who didn’t work in the industry directly were employed through peripheral supporting industries. Now that the oil spill has decimated the local fishing industry, people have lost access to their livelihoods indefinitely, (though not according to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal). People are anxious for recovery and some form of long term redress, but in the meantime, they also need jobs to feed their families. Even if it’s dangerous and dirty cleanup work.
h/t The Root