Some contractors leading reconstruction projects in the hurricane-hit southern United States have badly exploited workers and taken away business from local firms, Senate Democrats and labor groups said.
Housing for workers often lacks running water and contractors have failed to provide food, training and wage rates as promised, James Hale, vice president with the Laborers' International Union of North America, told a policy conference of opposition Democrats in the US Senate.
In one case, workers had not been paid for three weeks and at another site there were allegations that security guards were mistreating laborers, said Hale, who supported his allegations with photographs.
An electrician and foreman with Knight Enterprises cried as he recounted how his team of workers were kicked out of government tents by an out-of-state firm and forced to sleep in their cars.
"Most of our workers, some of whom had lost their homes to the two hurricanes (Katrina and Rita), were sleeping in their personal vehicles and showering in a car wash located on base," Mike Moran said.
Moran's employer was given a 20-month contract to provide power to a camp for military personnel but the contract was cancelled after 17 days.
Knight Enterprises alleges the contract was terminated because the firm was paying the prevailing hourly wage and an outside contractor that was hired paid its workers a lower wage.
After Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, President George W. Bush to waived regulations that require contractors to pay the prevailing or average wage in a region.
The decision was presented as a way of speeding up and streamlining recovery efforts in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said the federal government should reinstate the contract for Knight Enterprises, which is based in New Orleans.
"It is my intention to have this contract reinstated and that whoever is responsible apologizes to these workers," Landrieu said.
"You don't even see pictures like this in the Third World."
Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse