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Rebuilding After Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans


Hurricane Katrina, which landed just east of New Orleans, Louisiana on the morning of August 29, 2005, displaced hundreds of thousands of citizens, caused over 1,800 fatalities, and left much of the city in ruins. In its aftermath, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor lifted certain labor and wage restrictions for a period of time in an attempt to accommodate survivors who had lost security documents as well as expedite the rebuilding process. As clean up efforts got underway, reports of abuse—coupled with the easing of labor regulations, virtually no monitoring of construction sites, and the city’s lack of adequate housing and healthcare—suggested that unscrupulous contractors could easily be exploiting their workers.

The International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley collaborated with the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer at Tulane University to conduct a study of the situation of construction workers in New Orleans. The study took place in March 2006 and examined both documented and undocumented workers using three research methods: key informant interviews, targeted sampling, and random sampling. Researchers interviewed 25 key informants including legal advocates, social service providers, community activists, representatives of minority and immigrant groups, and representatives of federal, state, and local government agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, among others. Researchers also used targeted sampling to interview 148 Latino workers in different sites in New Orleans and Kenner, with the goal to determine the needs of Latino workers as they represent the largest group of undocumented workers. In addition, a random sampling of 212 workers of all origins working in Orleans parish was conducted to provide quantitative information on workers’ experiences.

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