After lamenting the lack of specifics in President Obama’s Oval Office address on the BP oil disaster, Matthews called on Obama to “get our spirit up again. Get people down there as volunteers. Form a new CCC, get people down in the Gulf cleaning up this muck. Thousands, tens of thousands of people. We’d feel a lot better about that.” Olbermann was quick to correct Matthews on the absence of volunteers, noting that BP is actually denying volunteers from helping. Matthews jumped in, blindly stating, “I hope it’s not the unions.”
Of course, Matthews is dead wrong. First of all, no unions are involved in any of the recovery operations. All cleanup workers are subcontractors hired via BP to work for $10 an hour to clean up the Gulf Coast ($12/hour for overtime). Those are not union wages, and the workers certainly don’t have any union protections. Indeed, if unions were involved in the recovery effort, you could bet your house on the fact that they’d be demanding for adequate safety equipment and enforcement. Workers would have respirators made available, if not mandatory. And we’d be sure that the workers wouldn’t work without knowing it was safe.
The reality is that BP is denying all volunteer opportunities to people who want to help. FDL diarist Ivan Oleander ended up in Louisiana precisely because he wanted to volunteer to help clean up the Gulf Coast. As he outlined at Firedoglake, he tried through multiple channels, organizations, and parts of BP to sign up to work or volunteer. He heard nothing.
Since my reason for coming down here was to help personally in cleaning up oil, last Friday I went to the hazmat training center in St. Bernard Parish. I need the training in order to work on the cleanup.
At the office, they told me that to be trained at this facility, I needed to be either a St. Bernard Parish resident or already be hired by BP. At an office next door, I could fill out an application to work for BP. So, realizing this would be the only way I might be able to work on the cleanup, I went by. As I sat just outside the office, I watched one fisherman after another come in and ask the BP representatives for checks. Some had no problem getting checks, while others left empty-handed for yet another day.
After completing the application, I talked with an office worker about the likelihood of receiving a call back. She said it was a sure thing. I assumed she was right on that count, because BP obviously needs all the workers it can find. As I left the office, I encountered another fellow walking between buildings and inquired as to his situation. He said that he is a local who simply has had trouble finding work lately and assumed, as I did, that BP could use his help. When I asked if he was having any luck finding work through BP, he said that he felt like he was getting the runaround.
It has been a week now since I put in my application with BP and I have not received a call, e-mail or any other response. I am assuming at this point that I will never receive such a call.
I am still on the volunteer list for multiple organizations in the area and have still heard nothing from any of them, other than fund-raising e-mails. I and so many others down here just want to find a way to help, some because it is the right thing to do, and others because they are desperate to find a way to pay the bills and bring food to the table. With so much needing to be done, I can’t help but wonder why it is next to impossible to find even one opportunity to help.
That was three weeks ago. Ivan still hasn’t heard a peep from BP, or anyone else.
So, Chris Matthews, no, it’s not “the unions” preventing volunteers from helping. It’s the arrogance of BP, which is more interested in covering up the oil disaster than cleaning it up. And rest assured, if “the unions” were involved in the recovery, we wouldn’t have nearly as much uncertainty about the health and safety of those actually allowed to help with BP’s disaster.