Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, President Bush proved once again just how far removed he and his Administration are from the life experiences of most Americans. The President issued an executive order on Thursday that makes it possible for federal contractors to pay extremely low wages to workers hired for the Gulf Coast rebuilding. Bush accomplished this by suspending the 1931 Davis-Bacon law, which says that federal contractors must pay their workers a “prevailing wage” on construction projects. Contrary to the misinformation coming from the right wing – that prevailing wages are actually high “union wages,” as John Fund wrote on The Huffington Post last week – the truth is that the prevailing wage is just the average wage for a specific job function in a local area. In parts of the Gulf Coast, these wages for construction workers can be low – even as low as $7, $8, or $9 an hour.
Deep poverty is a major part of the story of Hurricane Katrina, as is now plain for all of us to see. How are New Orleanians and other people in the region supposed to get back on their feet if they can’t even make $7 an hour? Hundreds of thousands of people have just lost everything they had. America has to put Gulf Coast workers back to work – and at wages that can help them and their families get back on their feet. Davis-Bacon guarantees a wage floor when they get back to work. If the President wants to help storm victims he should rescind his executive order immediately.