Minorities See Little Green in BP Oil Spill Jobs

Already hit hard by the Gulf disaster, blacks and Asians have not benefited from the money flow in the cleanup effort.

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Cases like these makes you wonder why the workers weren't supplied with thick enough gloves and boots to prevent these accidents, or why there isn't a supply of water on hand to prevent dehydration. On June 14, there were four cases of "fatigue, drowsiness, fainting; diagnosed as carbon monoxide poisoning" -- yet, in a call with environmental justice leaders, a representative from OSHA said they are not recommending respirators.

Just last week, OSHA assistant secretary David Michaels expressed concerns that the workers haven't been getting proper training: "Employees hired to be supervisors in the onshore and marine cleanup are required to receive extensive training. A rigorous program is required under OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operation and Emergency Response Standard." At issue is the fact that oil spill workers have been getting only four hours of training, as opposed to the 40-hour "HAZWOPER" training -- to which Michaels is referring -- required for this kind of work. Interestingly enough, the New Orleans-based Deep South Center for Environmental Justice has already been offering this training for years -- with a focus on young minorities who are normally excluded from the workforce. Along with the United Steelworkers, the Deep South Center has provided hazardous material training and jobs in times of disaster, as they did after Hurricane Katrina when they created the "A Safe Way Back Home" program.

During a recent meeting of the Deep South Center held at Dillard University, a black college in New Orleans, director Beverly Wright said, "We know from our history that four hours is not adequate for the best kind of training. They need to know about protective equipment and safety. Are they developing training exclusively for the fishermen? If we ever get supplemental funding, a lot of that should be targeted for the fishermen."

Wright comes from a long line of women who have advocated for environmental and worker safety: Pam Dashiell, Wilma Subra, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley and Alice Hamilton to name a few -- these are women who have been at the forefront, not in the margins.

This shows that what the NAACP and other organizations such as the Louisiana Justice Institute and the Equity and Inclusion Campaign have reported is correct. It also means that the burden of ensuring that minority fishers, local business owners and nonprofits are included has fallen on local foundations such as the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and the Gulf Coast Fund. These entities have provided their own worker safety equipment and trainings, and provided grants when BP and government contracts have been elusive. The same has occurred through the disasters of Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

How many more disasters have to happen before the purse holders learn to finance and restore the local and most vulnerable ahead of everyone else?

Brentin Mock is a reporter for the New Orleans investigative-reporting news Web site The Lens.

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