NEW ORLEANS — Labor unions that have been left out of major construction projects in southwest Louisiana are blasting Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry after The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported Friday that companies owned by Landry or his brother helped hire hundreds of Mexican workers to handle the jobs instead.
“He needs to resign,” said Dennis Miller, who represents Laborers Local 99 in Louisiana and Mississippi. “You have a guy who represents Louisiana, supposed to represent the people to uplift our state, and doing something like this…. It’s just unacceptable.”
The United Association represents the pipefitters and welders who sought the precise jobs that ended up going to Mexican workers who were furnished with so-called H2B visas by Landry’s companies. UA International Representative Lance Albin said he was disappointed that Landry would bring in Mexican workers to build a liquefied natural gas facility in Cameron Parish that receives state tax incentives for creating local jobs.
“I was shocked and appalled that Attorney General Landry would participate in, much less profit from a program like the H2B visa program, which displaces Louisiana workers and their families in favor of foreign workers,” Albin said, adding that he believes the H2B visa program itself contradicts Landry’s oft-stated position on protecting American jobs.
“What good is building a border wall if we give people secret doors?” Albin said.
Landry’s spokesman Brent Littlefield said the attorney general is still against illegal immigration and sanctuary cities that refuse to help deport undocumented workers. Littlefield said the Landry firms only turned to Mexican workers for the Cameron LNG project when no qualified Americans answered their classified ad in the Lake Charles newspaper.
Albin said his pipefitters and welders union could have filled 500-600 skilled positions on the Cameron LNG project if the builders -- formerly CB&I and now McDermott International — had been willing to hire any UA members.
The role of Landry and his brother Benjamin’s companies came to light when a convicted fraudster named Marco Pesquera provided documents to The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. He was on his way to prison at the time for defrauding the H2B program in Texas. He told the newspaper he wanted to reduce his sentence by providing information about the Landrys, but federal prosecutors declined.
Littlefield went on WWL Radio on Friday and called the newspaper's story "bogus" and "misleading." Prior to the story appearing in the newspaper or online, Jeff Landry’s election campaign had recorded a video of Benjamin Landry seeking to debunk the upcoming story.
“They're relying on the words and actions of this convicted felon or his associates,” Benjamin Landry said in the video.
Littlefield told WWL Radio, “The folks who are building that facility just felt like they had exhausted all avenues to get the (local) workers for that temporary work.”
But Miller and Albin said that’s not true.
“We did a lot of work to get ready because we knew that work was coming. We built a new training center in Lake Charles, La., to the tune of about $4.5 million,” Albin said. “We have the facility there and the infrastructure to flip the switch and get more folks there if we need them. But the demand just hasn’t been there for us since we did that investment because we have not gotten (hired) on these projects.”
Albin and Miller said they were told at the start of the Cameron LNG project in 2014 that the project owner, Sempra, and its builders were not going to hire any union workers.
“We were told in no uncertain terms that our members weren’t needed,” Miller said.
Littlefield said the Landry firms paid the Mexican workers federal prevailing wages, but Miller and Albin said that's cheap compared to the rates paid to unionized American workers. Also, because the visas are tied to specific projects, it means the Mexican workers can’t leave to seek other work once they’re hired.
Pesquera was first accused of defrauding the guest-worker visa program in federal court in Texas in 2016. More than a year later, he hired Landry's firms to provide the labor for two separate locations at the Cameron LNG facility and a separate project. But Littlefield said the AG and his brother had no idea they were teaming with a crook.
“We had not worked with this Texas company before, and we found ourselves fighting to get paid,” Benjamin Landry said in the video.
Documents show Benjamin Landry filed liens against Pesquera’s company, Pangea, and got it fired from the Cameron LNG project. Littlefield said the Landrys helped federal investigators when the U.S. Department of Labor and State Department contacted them about the fraud case against Pesquera’s company in Texas.