Cleanup Jobs Are Hard To Find In The Gulf

Cleanup workers maneuver an oil boom in Bataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. i i

hide captionCleanup workers maneuver an oil boom in Bataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. With the down economy, their are plenty of people hoping for cleanup jobs, but there are few to be found.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Cleanup workers maneuver an oil boom in Bataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana.

Cleanup workers maneuver an oil boom in Bataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. With the down economy, their are plenty of people hoping for cleanup jobs, but there are few to be found.

Patrick Semansky/AP

In and around New Orleans, where the heaviest oil from the Gulf spill has hit so far, there are plenty of people hoping to do cleanup work. And you might think given the sheer size of the disaster, there would be plenty of those jobs available.

But that has not been the case for many job-seekers, who say they're confused about where they can even apply.

Who Has The Jobs?

Nicole Route figured the one benefit of having an oil spill in her backyard would be that at least she might get a job helping clean it up. Instead, she said she's gotten a runaround from BP and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, a statewide agency trying to place people in jobs.

"When you talk to BP representatives, what they tell you is, they [are] working directly with the workforce," she said. "And then when you go to the workforce, the workforce doesn't have an idea of what's going on or what BP is talking about."

And that is what landed her at a town hall meeting intended to help residents of St. Bernard Parish find out more about jobs, cleanup efforts and filing claims for lost income. BP had a table here and so did the Workforce Commission. But she wasn't getting answers to her questions.

"It's like it's a secret," Route said.

"We want to clean up, so why we not cleaning up? They keep saying they hired people — they're hiring people in this area." But nobody knows of anyone BP has hired, she said.

'It's Frustrating'

Cindy Graf had a table set up near the entrance of the meeting. She is a career specialist for the Workforce Commission and said she doesn't have many answers.

"It's frustrating because I see a lot of people that need jobs," Graf said. "And a lot of people want a job, and I just can't match them to the job."

The problem is, essentially there are so many contractors involved in the response and cleanup efforts, it's not clear who's doing what and who's doing the hiring.

And, Graf said, sometimes companies try to hire even before they get a contract, which adds to the confusion.

BP representatives at the town hall event said they weren't able to talk about the issue.

A spokesman at the Deepwater Horizon Response center also declined to speak on tape. But he admitted there are lots of complicating factors when it comes to hiring.

In some cases, BP itself is contracting with private companies to hire cleanup workers. In other cases, it's the state or local offices like the parishes that do the contracting. He said there appears to be "no uniform program."

Abundant Labor Supply

Though more than 30,000 people have been hired in the response, the spokesman said he did not know how many of those were cleanup jobs. Many are claims processors, support staff and even people, like himself, hired to answer press calls.

Capt. Roger Laferriere is the Coast Guard's incident commander for the state of Louisiana. It's his job to fight the oil as it moves ashore.

On one mid-June day, he estimated roughly 300 people were working on the Louisiana beaches doing cleanup. Another 570 or so boats were out monitoring or skimming the water.

"I think our cleanup efforts are going well," he said. "We obviously can do a better job. We can constantly do a better job, and we can use all the help we can get."

Help seems abundantly available, judging from the foot traffic at the employment center on Canal Street in New Orleans. A few weeks after the spill started, these steps were teeming with people seeking cleanup work — 2,500 in a single day, Larry Jones was told.

Jones, who was one of those people, has been unemployed for a year. Prior to that, he drove trucks for chemical companies. He said he's had hazardous material training for far more dangerous substances than oil, and that he's willing to work hard under tough conditions.

"Hot sun — whatever, I work it," he said. "I put the necessary hours to do it, to do the job because that's what I'm out there for."

But, he said he's heard nothing back, and at this point, he doesn't expect to.

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