Long hours, arduous unplanned work for little to no wages. This describes the work of many undocumented immigrants who chase disasters as a means of living. The following blog post will explore the lives of migrant workers who oftentimes come from Central or South America for work to states like Florida which is often impeded with natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods. In 2018 alone, Hurricane Michael ravaged the state with strong winds, increased inland flooding, and extensive timber damage according to the Florida Forest Service. It’s no secret that natural disasters are expensive and more often than not, the catastrophes are irreparable, making it hard for local communities to rebuild. Hurricane Michael claimed the lives of 7 in Florida and has now reached $6.91 billion of insured losses. Until a more comprehensive Flood Insurance Program in the state is established, these disasters are only going to become harder and harder to mitigate.
A Geospatial Analysis Map below features some of the complications caused by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018. On the map, we are able to see the initial damage assessment points caused by Hurricane Michael. It’s worth noting that though there are are many incidents listed as being “minor,” they are still complex damages that seek external help. There are “major” damages such as this example in the Tallahassee residential area: “A large tree went through the home, collapsing the attic, opening a large hole in the roof… Gas line was ruptured.” The damage was caused by a tree.
Between the narrow emergency spending bills from the Florida Legislature, continuous battles with insurance companies for claims and a search for long term inclusive answers, we often forget about one more set of victims when it comes to natural disasters: Migrant workers. A recent New York Times Opinion Piece titled: Hurricane Chasers highlights the grueling conditions they face.
What happens after a hurricane in a state like Florida? Who cleans up?
Companies like Winterfell Construction hire a slew of immigrants to essentially restore and redevelop areas in need. However, Winterfell Constructions does not always pay these workers fair wages, or pay them at all.
Ana Salazar a 58 year old woman from Venezuela was hired by Winterfell Construction along with her two sons to mainly dispatch of debris. When Ana decided it was time to seek compensation for her work, the company warned Ana that it was within their right to force her out of the temporary housing they provide. Ana’s stories is one of many highlighted in the Times piece.
Their threat force workers like Ana to live in fear of retaliation despite giving and giving to companies like Winterfell Construction. Neither the United States employment laws nor immigration standards are favorable toward migrant workers. Similarly, parallels can be drawn from the farming industry where harvesters are having to waste crops and essential foods because of a lack of harvesters. Where does the shortage of harvesters come from? From a lack of concrete immigration policies. This cyclical hostility toward migrant workers degrades our economy and in turn hurts them.
Ana alone calculates that Winterfell Constructions owes her an upwards of $6,713.
There is an answer to improving workers conditions and better wages for both Americans and migrant workers. I propose an incentive program for Americans to have a certain percentage taken off of their student loans or mortgage payments if they choose to commit to a reasonable amount of time as part of an on-call rotation for emergency disasters, similar to the program provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency. The only way to get companies like Winterfell Construction to take responsibility for their workers, is if more is at stake.