MISSISSIPPI: MADE BY CHINA?
Even with available labor waiting in squatter camps to work for next to nothing, the task of rebuilding will require more and cheaper labor, according to some contractors. Two Chinese builders have an unorthodox plan to remedy the situation: import yet more foreign labor, this time from China.
Beijing Construction Engineering Co. Ltd.-which is building the 2008 Olympic stadium in Beijing-and Beijing Urban Construction International Co.-which is building the U.S. embassy in Chinahave made the proposal to the city of D'Iberville, Mississippi, and the mayor is anxious to try the plan. (61)
The only roadblock may be federal labor law. In order to import the number of laborers required to rebuild the casinos, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure in the town, the companies would have to be granted a massive number of special work visas. Only 66,000 such visas can be granted per year nationwide to immigrant laborers from any country.
Tony Heflin, owner of Gulfco Construction, has partnered with the Chinese firms to push the plan, and is defensive about accusations that importing foreign workers takes jobs from Americans.
"People are mad because it's foreign labor," Heflin, who admitted he is overwhelmed by it all, said. "Well, it's 11 months after the hurricane and they had plenty of time to get down here and work if they wanted to." Heflin said he'll "fight tooth and nail" for the visas, since he is bothered by the use of illegal labor across the Gulf Coast and the way undocumented workers are treated.
"The Chinese workers will bring their own housing," he said.
"Nothing permanent, strictly temporary. They're not coming to take jobs from Americans. This is not just happening in D'Iberville. It's going to be happening all over the coast. When they're done, they'll leave." (62)