Congress must fully fund rebuilding Houston, maintain labor standards
By JEFF JOHNSON
(Sept. 7, 2017) — As flood waters begin to slowly recede from Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas, rebuilding neighborhoods and communities will take a long time and cost a lot of money. Relief and reconstruction efforts to recover from Hurricane Harvey are expected to reach $200 billion, more than the combined amount of money spent on Katrina ($120 billion) and Sandy ($50 billion).
Don’t balk or play partisan politics over the cost of helping Houston recover. Funding the recovery from Sandy became a political hot potato among some Republicans as money was delayed and ultimately New York and New Jersey were short-shrifted.
Why not make fully funding the rebuilding of Houston the beginning of a massive national effort to invest of our infrastructure?
Harvey’s aftermath is not a time to suspend prevailing wage laws and Davis Bacon laws or other employment standards as was done after Katrina. Let’s put thousands to work in the building and construction trades. Paying decent wages will help the economy of Houston recover more quickly and truly help workers to support their families.
During the Katrina recovery efforts day laborers and undocumented workers were used extensively in the clean-up. These workers were exploited through the removal of labor standards, wages below the minimum wage, exposures to workplace hazards, and being threatened with deportation if they complained. It is time to end the duplicity — stop talking about the wall and start paying all workers the prevailing wage.
The political right used Katrina to defund the public schools and to vastly expand private charter schools in New Orleans. This was an out-right theft of public education.
Finally, don’t make funding the recovery contingent on funding the wall, or corporate tax reform, or repealing the Affordable Care Act. Let’s adequately fund the recovery of Houston because it is the right thing to do.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and 450,000 rank-and-file union members.