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August 31, 2006

Canadian union workers lend hand in rebuilding

NEW ORLEANS, LA

Canadian skilled trades from the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union are tackling the rebuilding of New Orleans’s neighbourhood in the Ninth Ward.

Colin Heslop, National Director of Skilled Trades and lead coordinator of the project will travel to the hurricane zone with a collection of carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

“There’s devastation. The area where we are going, the Ninth Ward, is the poorest area of New Orleans. You would think Hurricane Katrina just went through there instead of a year ago,” Heslop said.

The eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over the city on August 29, 2005, causing extensive damage to many of the buildings.

“We feel just great that our skilled trades workers want to go down to help the people of the Ninth Ward that need the help more than any other community in New Orleans. And they have been left behind compared to other wards and districts of New Orleans,” said Heslop.

“You would think Hurricane Katrina just went through there.”

Colin Heslop, CAW

The CAW is working in conjunction with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to refurbish the properties of the Ninth Ward.

“[ACORN] have hundreds of homes that they need to get complete and refurbished,” commented Heslop.

Currently, New Orleans residents have been taking debris and garbage and dumping in their front yards or on the street. The waste is not collected immediately, and it can take weeks for government-sponsored workers to collect.

“There’s an absolute shortage of skilled trades in New Orleans. There’s a shortage of trades in North America, within Canada and the United States, especially in certain regions. The people in the Ninth Ward have been left behind.”

Heslop represents 30,000 skilled trades, journeymen and journeywomen across Canada in various sectors, including construction.

“This should be a wake up call to get apprenticeship programs established across North America,” added Heslop.

CAW’s involvement in the refurbishment of New Orleans is a pilot project. The union plans to build on their relief work in the near future. The idea for helping the City of New Orleans came from bargaining with three North American auto makers.

CAW negotiated for a leave of absence for any skilled trade worker willing to take time off to do relief work.

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