Archive for Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Relief workers victims of job mix-up

Would-be humanitarians sent to clean up casino

September 14, 2005

Advertisement

What was envisioned as a mission of mercy to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina ended in anger and disillusionment for two Lawrence residents.

Instead of handing out food and water to victims in New Orleans, they found themselves under the supervision of no-nonsense, "kind of scary" foremen who had them cleaning up a hurricane-ravaged casino in Biloxi, Miss.

"I felt really bad about working on a casino for rich people when there are people suffering," Kalila Dalton said.

"I felt like we got scammed pretty good," Chris Tucker said.

When Dalton and Tucker of Lawrence and others from the Kansas City area said they wanted to leave Biloxi, they were told there was no transportation for them and if they tried to walk away they risked being shot by National Guardsmen enforcing martial law.

"It was like a job we couldn't leave," Dalton said.

Representatives for the companies that organized the venture said Tuesday that the matter was all a misunderstanding caused by the chaos and confusion of trying to deal with such a massive disaster.

"We're certainly sorry that the people had a problem; we're certainly doing the best we can," said Teri Hill, spokeswoman in Fort Worth, Texas, for BMS Catastrophe Inc., also known as BMS CAT. The company was in charge of refurbishing Biloxi's Beau Rivage Casino.

"Everybody made mistakes. It was a bad situation," said Mike Mansingh, representative of One Source Staff and Labor, the Overland Park firm that recruited the workers.

Marching to work

It all began when Dalton, 20, and Tucker, 23, joined with a couple of other friends from St. Charles, Mo., and responded to fliers and postings offering $7.50 per hour for 500 people willing to help with disaster relief cleanup in New Orleans. The postings stated that workers should expect to stay a minimum of six weeks and be willing to work 40-plus hours. Travel would be by bus, and hotels, meals and equipment would be supplied.

On Friday, Sept. 2, Dalton and Tucker found themselves on one of three nonair-conditioned school buses headed south with what they estimated to be about 130 people. There also had been a change of plans. Instead of New Orleans, the buses were going to Biloxi.

"We thought, 'OK, they were hit pretty hard, too,'" Dalton said.

Nearly 30 hours later, about 5 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, the buses pulled into Biloxi and let the workers out in a parking lot. They were told they could take a two-hour nap on the pavement before they would be going to work.

About 7 a.m., the group was addressed by one of the drill sergeant-like foremen, who said they were to march in a file to the work site, which turned out to be the $800-million Beau Rivage casino, owned by MGM Mirage, where they began clearing debris. During the lunch break, the workers were given bologna sandwiches and a few Oreo cookies, Dalton and Tucker said.

Workers also were told their work days would be up to 16 hours long and then they would be bused to a hotel two hours away, allowed to sleep four hours, and then sent back to work.

'Ridiculous'

Tucker and Dalton decided it was time to leave.

"This is ridiculous," Dalton remembered saying. "We're here to help people. This isn't what we came here to do."

Tucker recalled talking to Mansingh, who had traveled with the workers, about getting a bus ticket home. Tucker said he was told there were no buses to take them out and that he was stuck there for at least six weeks.

"I just thought, 'I've got to get out of here, even if it is hitchhiking or finding a bicycle," Tucker said.

Mansingh, however, eventually capitulated and obtained a school bus to take about 20 people back home. They left late that Sunday and arrived in Lawrence on Monday, Sept. 5.

Dalton and Tucker said they felt sorry for the people who remained behind. Most appeared to be people with low-income or no jobs and some were Hispanic who couldn't speak English, they said.

"I'm 20, I have family, I have resources," Dalton said. "I can lose this job and it's OK. I can leave, but not all of those people could."

Mansingh said he and the other workers left for home a few days later. He said the conditions the workers were having to put up with were not good and not what he expected.

"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Mansingh said. "I felt terrible."

BMS spokeswoman Hill said the company doesn't handle victim assistance and only takes on building restorations in the aftermath of catastrophes. She said communication with employees in the Gulf region was difficult and "everybody is overwhelmed" by the devastation.

Hill said she wasn't aware of the specific situations at the Biloxi casino.

"We do take care of our people," Hill said. "They are looked after as well as we can. I'm not sure where the problem is. It's a mess down there."

Mansingh said the Biloxi project came together too fast and led to miscommunication and other problems.

"The people in Lawrence, it's sad," Mansingh said. "They hate us; they hate BMS, but we did the best we could do."

Neither Dalton or Tucker were paid for the work they did in Biloxi. Neither have paying jobs in Lawrence though Dalton does volunteer work. They said they would like to be paid for the work they did, though money wasn't the reason they signed up.

"We weren't thinking of it as a job," Dalton said. "We just wanted to go down and help and the fact that we were going to get paid was like this weird bonus."

Hill said Dalton and Tucker would have to talk to the project manager at the casino, Brent Lee, about the pay.

"If they worked any hours, I'm sure they would (get paid)," Hill said.

Lee couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

6News reporter Laura Berger contributed to this story.

Comments

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

As another person pointed out early on. The casinos and the jobs they make available for the people in the state and the revenues they generate through sales and special taxes, help the "working man's economy" as well as the "rich MGM" people.

topflight 9 years, 7 months ago

That is wonderful that you wanted to go down there and help, i dont condone that. But maybe it is time for these 2 to get real jobs.

hurlehey 9 years, 7 months ago

Those casinos are the largest employers in the region.The sooner they are back to running the sooner people have jobs again. While they didnt get the feel good story they were hoping for out of it, building restoration and clean up is an important part of the rebuilding effort. What did they think living conditions would be like?

ive_got_my_ascot_n_my_dickie 9 years, 7 months ago

It reminds me of the human shields who were upset because Saddam's people wanted to place them at military establishments rather than hospitals and orphanages..."Hey, we didn't sign up for this!" These kids would have gotten in the way of the qualified rescue workers in New Orleans. Too funny.

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

I was trying to tally the exact number of hours they worked total from the time they got there to the time they left "late that night." Help is required in many forms...what do you think you are going to get the choice job of dishing out food in a food line?

They seem like professional complainers. The are two of the same people who are always protesting everything downtown. Dalton was one of the people eating food from a dumpster in a story a couple of months ago why would fresh sandwichs not blessed by a dumpster be bad.

BDub 9 years, 7 months ago

Those of you judging these two by the way they look or the fact that they are jobless are missing the message of this story. Further, if you're criticizing them for not having jobs, you're not giving them credit for having tried this.

What this story is about is exploitation of this disaster as a way to draw in people to work for low wages in pathetic conditions. The company is playing on these people's sympathies to get them down there, and then forcing them to work under conditions that are completely unacceptable.

Yes, it's a disaster area and conditions aren't going to be good - but 16 hour days and only allowed 4 hours sleep a night is very, very wrong. This is exploitation.

The cleanup company's excuses are pathetic. I hope they wind up getting hammered by the US Dept of Labor or some other agency that governs labor standards. This type of practice by any company should be punished.

bluedog 9 years, 7 months ago

I agree with "ruskastud" -- payment for volunteering should be an indicator. If they really wanted to volunteer and help people directly, they should have went through the Red Cross.

spikey_mcmarbles 9 years, 7 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

David Ryan 9 years, 7 months ago

Comments, you'll recall, get removed for violating the terms of use everyone voluntarily agrees to when choosing to sign up for a user account on LJWorld.com.

BDub 9 years, 7 months ago

one_more_bob, the guy from the agency in Overland Park that arranged the trip admitted that the situation was below acceptable standards:

[quote]Mansingh said he and the other workers left for home a few days later. He said the conditions the workers were having to put up with were not good and not what he expected.

"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Mansingh said. "I felt terrible."[/quote]

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

DO you guys remember the tornado that hit Lawrence a year or two ago. There were volunteers there as well as paid workers, like Firefigthers, the cops, KPL, Aquila, people feeding the families, they shut down a daycare to use for a meeting point for food...all of them worked over 12 hours and in some cases more because they were trying to get things back to normal for others.

Clean up is part of this effort in NO or Mississippi. If you really want to help don't pick and choose, get in there and help. I also question why they we upset they went to Biloxi rather than NO. Why is one better than another.

I bet the people they referenced in the article that did not speak English are still there working. Have you ever gone to King Buffet, Jin Shan or El Mezecal and tried to talk to some of the workers. Many don't speak English, but they are working their tails off doing clean up, cooking whatever jobs many of us in the past as students or whatever we "above doing."

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

When I see these types of articles it is interesting to "google" the name to see what else they have been in the news about. This is what I came up with on the Kalila. SHe has done some good things several years ago, but what is this really about? One of the articles used the term "sue."

http://houston.indymedia.org/news/2005/09/43208.php

http://www.kansan.com/stories/2005/apr/27/features_kulture_flags/

Hey there are homeless people in LA and MIssissippi, they need to clean up the mess so they can rebuild... period. If you are cleaning up a casino or whatever just do it.

princess 9 years, 7 months ago

Hahaha! When you are being paid an hourly wage, you aren't volunteering:)

Everyone has this idea that volunteering is always going to be this glamorous super hero type of gig. Not everyone is going be the person handing out food or clothing or toys. Some people have to get in there and do the dirty work. It may not be glamorous, but that doesn't make it any less important.

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

Great comments from everyone! I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of their complaints, myself. Haven't checked out the sites referring to Kalila yet but it sounds like she has a great future ahead of her as a professional protester!

BDub 9 years, 7 months ago

Regardless of who these people are (Dalton and Tucker) and what background they have, I see a valid story here. I just think in some ways it appears the cleanup company is exploiting sympathy for hurricane victims for profit. That's the only point I was making. Seems like most of the commenters here disagree.

dex 9 years, 7 months ago

oh my gosh, JOBLESS PUNKS FROM LAWRENCE ARE VICTIMS OF KATRINA TOO!!!!

do the ljworld reporters ever leave the coffeeshop?

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

I need to quit "googling" but here is an interesting site when I continued to combine searches with "Kansas Mutual Aid" lawrence kalila.

Why were they upset they were in Mississippi?

http://www.greatplainsanarchist.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=103

Jamie Benvenutti 9 years, 7 months ago

Did anyone else happen to see JAY WOLFE CHEVROLET's insert in the paper today?

For those who missed it, here's what it said:

"We are FLOODED with more cars than ever before! BRACE YOURSELF for the...AFTERMATH event."

Apparently, the folks over at JAY WOLFE think it's just fine to capitalize off of the horrible tragedy of Katrina in order to sell their cars.

I, for one, find it detestable that anyone could make a mockery of the unimaginable suffering and loss of hundreds of thousands of American citizens.

The only decent thing to do in response to this deplorable advertisement would be a BOYCOTT. Maybe then JAY WOLFE will get the idea that the tactics they've used are unacceptable.

dflygrl 9 years, 7 months ago

I think this article is pretty straightforward. A position was advertised as being approx. 40 hrs/wk and located in New Orleans. Instead, the job site was a casino in Biloxi and workers would be expected to put in 16 hour days of physical labor (possible 80+ hour workweeks?) running on about 4 hrs of sleep and a couple of balogna sandwiches per day. Obviously if these two young people had been fully briefed about what to expect when they signed on -- more like prison work camp, less like the peace corps -- they would have reconsidered. Do these kids have any common sense? Maybe not, but they were still suckered, and I think that's the main issue here.

Sigmund 9 years, 7 months ago

ROFLMAO! Sorry, I mean I appreciate people's compassion and good hearts, but instead of helping others I wish they would just take care of themselves, as much as possible, so that society can allocate those resources to those much less fortunate.

On a completely unrelated note, the LJWORLD is just a little too quick the the censorship remove post button. It appears if anyone complains, it gets removed.

raine 9 years, 7 months ago

oh good grief............... fascinating and boring all at the same time.. what critics what fools .. first off blame the writer of the story not the guys. many a reporter has made something sound completely opposite of what the focus should be.. i'm with bdub... the issue here isn't these two young men but it is the dishonesty and exploitation of this company. or rather several companies.. the one in KC who did not first check out exactly what the job was they were offering and then the BMSCat... oh and what is even more fascinating is that not one of you have a remark to be made about the red cross volunteer and her story. so a valid issue goes astray... guess most of you just have too much time on your hands.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 7 months ago

In the story, it says these two losers did not like working to help "rich people." guess they think themselves qualified to judge the deserving!

what a pair of stupids!
and, sounded reasonable what they were asked to do. I wondered why the LJWorld even printed this obvious puff piece, and had no opposing view at all...

bullmose 9 years, 7 months ago

The business partners of the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, put it best: "Arbeit macht frei."

fenchurch42 9 years, 7 months ago

I just can't believe the comments on here. Are people so blind as to not see the real story here?

I'm familiar with Kalila and Chris, and I don't think that any of you have the right impression of them. Just because they don't feel the need to slave away in a "regular" 40-hr/week job doesn't mean they don't contribute to society (and it certainly doesn't mean that you do just by having that job). Both are students, so working in that sense isn't exactly conducive to their lives. Kalila especially volunteers with many organizations and is involved in all kinds of community outreach. I'd bet she's a more productive member of society than most of the leeches who have commented here. For those of you that comment that these two are on their way to being "professional protestors," get your head out of your ass and look at the world. There is PLENTY going wrong, and you shouldn't criticize those who are willing to take a stand and fight for what's right. These aren't the summer camp protestor types. Making the world a better place is a lifestyle choice for them.

I saw the same ad posted on the Lawrence LJ community and thought about joining up. The money seemed more like a way to enable those with few finances to be able to help instead of having to worry about bills here. Jesus! It was only $7.50/hr - it wasn't like they were going to be raking in the dough anyway. The ad was very definitely phrased in a way where people would be misled into thinking they would be doing humanitarian work. If MGM needs their casino in New Orleans cleaned up, they can clearly state that in the job description. They can also post accurate expected job conditions and offer hard workers better pay - possibly hazard pay. This situation was CLEARLY misleading. I don't think Kalila or Chris would have minded doing anything to help out victims or their community, but being mislead into non-essential work is a different situation.

I think the comment that cleaning up this business would help local citizens get their jobs back is just ridiculous; how many people down there have money to blow on gambling at the moment? If there are no gamblers, how long do you think those people would have their jobs? If they do keep their jobs because business is good, how many people are they raping of money needed to feed their families and rebuild their housing? The meer idea of worrying about a casino at a time like this is indecent.

Maybe you should shut your traps and think before you type.

fenchurch42 9 years, 7 months ago

My mistake about the casino in NO. It's in Buloxi, of course. Same difference.

And the article clearly states that they didn't mind that they were going to Buloxi because help was needed there, but they were concerned that plans had changed without advance notification.

monkeywrench1969 9 years, 7 months ago

Fen

It is quite obvious Chris and Kalila are Professional Protestors because they seem to be involved wioth most Saturday protests while I am walking downtown or campus protests on the Jayhawk Boulevard when I am cutting across campus. I remember Kalila with a shaved head a couple of months ago dancing around in circles to the beat of drums made from plastic buckets. That is really bringing attention to the important social issues of the world. How did that change anything.

Who are you or she to be as arrogant to determine which businesses will benefit a community. The clean up will take years and what is to say a casino will go back on that property. The areas may never be zone as or flurish commercial/ entertainment businesses again or be able to maintain a healthy business in the area. You want people to thrive but you want to limit what kind of legal businesses return to the area. A casino can employ 1000s of people. My uncle lives in Vegas and they rarely go to the casinos unless another relative is visiting from out of town. Most of their business is vacationers.

They did not want to work and get their hands dirty. Volunteering is not just standing at 9th and Mass handing out sandwiches and fruit scavenged from grocery store dumpsters to your mooching friends and calling it something like Food Not Bombs and then considering it a ligit "cause". You are not giving something back to the community you are scamming and "padding" your activist resume'.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.