… At risk are tens of thousands of resilience workers, traveling from disaster to disaster cleaning up and rebuilding American communities while facing hazards such as unstable buildings, ash and other toxins, and water-borne diseases.
Researchers found that an increasingly complex web of franchises, contractors and subcontractors, insurance providers, labor brokers and agencies and mostly temporary jobs makes it difficult for workers to know who is ultimately accountable for violations.
“Disasters have become more intense and destructive, and rebuilding has become more profitable. As the money started pouring in, companies started consolidating, and private equity started circling and buying up these companies,” said Saket Soni, director of Resilience Force. “Wage theft and health and safety violations are deeply endemic … and private equity is failing to establish higher standards.”
Osha, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, recorded 194 violations at private-equity owned restoration companies and their franchises between January 2015 and January 2022, the report found. Most violations were classified as serious, and included failures to protect workers from asbestos, respiratory problems and falls. (The true number of health and safety violations is likely to be higher, given the small number of OSHA compliance officers).
It is impossible to say precisely what proportion of the disaster workforce is currently controlled by private equity, but acquisitions are gathering pace, with 14 in the first six months of this year compared to 13 during the entire course of 2020. Acquisitions included companies from 28 states, but most were in Florida and Texas—states hit by multiple billion-dollar climate disasters in recent years. …
Texas. And Florida.
Laboratories. And profit centers.
… In one case, migrant workers who helped rebuild luxury hotels destroyed by Hurricane Irma in Florida Keys in 2017, were forced to sue Cotton Commercial, acquired by the private equity firm Sun Capital in 2020, and a temp agency to recover more than $280,000 in back pay and damages.
A spokesperson for Cotton said: “All Cotton contracts include provisions on subcontractors’ responsibility for payment to their personnel in accordance with all applicable employment laws and regulations, as well as strict safety requirements.”
The need for climate resilience workers is likely to continue rising, and next month Jayapal will re-introduce the 2022 Climate Resilience Workforce Act which would help create a well-trained, fairly paid workforce to help the US prepare for the climate emergency—and ease the transition to a green economy.
Soni, the director of Resilience Force, said: “Disaster restoration is a public good, and we need a strong sustainable workforce as disasters increase. Many people deeply love the work and are dedicated…but the work gets more dangerous year after year, because there are no standards. We’re depleting the workforce when we ought to be building it.”