NEW ORLEANS - Health hazards and threats of violence are at the center of complaints by a pair of workers at a multi-million dollar construction site in New Orleans.
The former Iberville housing project is undergoing a massive transformation costing more than half a billion dollars. Two workers claim it's coming at their expense.
Patrick Delaney started working at the site as an asbestos abatement specialist in August of 2013. He says the work can be hazardous and Durr Heavy Construction, the company overseeing the Iberville development, did not provide adequate protection such as decontamination showers.
Reginald Junior had similar allegations when he began demolition work in February of this year. On Wednesday, both men attended a small prayer vigil next to the demolition site. The vigil was organized by Stand With Dignity, a group which describes itself as a grassroots membership organization representing unemployed and underemployed people in New Orleans.
"The reason why I'm speaking up now, is because of the safety hazards they had subjected us to on the job site,” said Patrick Delaney.
"They should have the necessary clothing for people to wear. I wasn't given a hard hat. I wasn't given glasses for my eyes," said Reginald Junior.
In addition to alleged exposure to asbestos, lead and mold, Delaney and Junior also accuse Durr Heavy Construction of low pay. Delaney said he was paid $12.75 an hour and Junior said he was paid roughly $10 per hour. The men say with families to support, that kind of money does not equate to a living wage considering the unsafe and unhealthy conditions they allege were present at the Iberville site. Both Delaney and Junior say as many as 150 other workers refuse to speak out because of the fear of retaliation.
Those concerns were stated in a complaint sent on March 17 to the City of New Orleans and also to the area director of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In a written statement released Wednesday, Durr Heavy Construction noted that members of OSHA conducted a two-day on-site inspection of the Iberville site and the company and its subcontractors cooperated fully. The statement continues, stating that "no significant deficiencies were noted and final report may take up to 30 days to receive."
Patrick Delaney claimed in a subsequent March 25 whistleblower complaint to OSHA that following his original complaint, he was subjected to threats of violence. Delaney declined to give the name of the person who allegedly made the threat against him.
"After work, we had an argument, that's where the threat to my life came," said Delaney.
Responding to the worker's claim of being threatened, Dana Stumpf, the chief administrative officer for Durr Heavy Construction, said in a statement that the company investigated the allegations made against its subcontractor and relayed its findings to Stand With Dignity that "there was no factual basis to mandate any action against Abatement Construction & Services Contractor or any other subcontractor on the project at this time."
Stumpf stated that the hourly wages offered for the project range from $10-$25 per hour. Those wages, Stumpf claimed, are "significantly" more than prevailing wages at other sites. The statement also claims that to date, Durr Heavy construction has provided more than 83,000 hours of employment and training to what it called a "large" number of Iberville residents, low income workers and previously unemployed/unskilled workers. Stumpf characterized allegations and tactics by the workers and Stand with Dignity as "false" and "questionable."
A final report from OSHA may take 30 days or more to be completed. The company stated it will comply with any recommendations.