Gulf Coast Fishermen Win Again Against BP’s Unfair Worker Contracts

By Julianne Hing May 11, 2010

Gulf Coast fishermen won a temporary restraining order in federal court yesterday against BP which will require the company to take responsibility for any chemical exposure fishermen face. Many out-of-work fishermen have signed up to help BP with the cleanup of the millions of gallons of crude oil that continue to spew out of the underwater leaks. The win comes after BP last week tried to force fishermen who were helping with the Gulf Coast oil spill not to sue them if they were injured doing cleanup work. A federal court already forced BP to rewrite its agreement once with volunteer workers, called a Master Vessel Charter Agreement. Not only did the MVCA try to indemnify BP against legal action if workers were injured, but BP also tried to force fishermen into assuming liability for any damage their boats and equipment dealt with in the course of cleanup work. Yesterday, a judge also ordered that the company has the responsibility to properly train volunteer workers in hazmat protocol. The company, which beforehand was not doing so, now must also provide protective equipment to workers. BP’s sneaky legal agreements are a slap in the face to fishermen along the Mississippi River, who are banned by the federal government from fishing for the foreseeable future. While some fishermen are receiving checks from BP after filing lost income claims, most are out of work with financial cushion or source of income. Today, Sen. Mary Landrieu asked BP to step it up and provide direct aid to Gulf Coast fishermen who are now out of work indefinitely because of the oil spill and the toxic contaminants in the water. "What these fishermen need is a financial support package from BP to help pay their bills and provide for their families, as we learn more about the environmental damage caused by this oil spill," she said. The Christian Science Monitor, discussing the disproportionate impact the Gulf Coast spill is having on Vietnamese and Cambodian American fishermen, described a meeting that BP spokespeople led:

The room remained silent when they were asked if anyone present was worried about eating that night, but anger quickly flashed at Aronfeld, who started a question and answer period by admonishing local residents against hostility, shouting, or threats about lawsuits or claims. “We are normal people! We are not animals! Talk to us like we are human beings!” one obviously upset fisherman shouted at Aronfeld, who profusely apologized.

Fishermen were initially presented with an agreement that was written only in English, which many Vietnamese and Cambodian workers could not read. Photo Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria