Fox 8 Defenders: Contractors say crime is impacting their jobs and livelihoods
“There’s bullets flying, we’ve had to duck behind vehicles in the middle of shootings several, several times.”
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Amid the city’s violent crime surge, contractors are working on street upgrade projects that positively benefit neighborhoods across New Orleans. But they fear for their lives and reached out to the FOX 8 Defenders for help.
Contractors we spoke with off-camera describe an increasingly dangerous work environment, with weekly occurrences of car break-ins, theft of equipment, workers’ lives being threatened, and shootings.
“In 2021, it seems like every single crew we’ve had out there has had three or four incidents, out of 10 to 12 crews working every single day,” said one superintendent who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
“There’s bullets flying, we’ve had to duck behind vehicles in the middle of shootings several, several times,” he added. “I’ve actually had workers come up and quit right after their cars are broken into, all their windows busted out. They feel violated, very concerned for their safety.”
The crime at job sites has gotten so bad, there are contractors who refuse to do work in the City of New Orleans, said Andre Kelly, the area manager for Louisiana Associated General Contractors (AGC).
AGC represents contractors across the state, including approximately six that do work for the City of New Orleans.
“It’s not fair to those employees, and it sucks, as a city, that that’s our reality, but it is what’s going on,” Kelly said. “It’s having a tremendous effect on how those guys are able to do their work and the timelines that they’re able to do it in.”
When construction crews are impacted by violence, they are forced to shut down the job site temporarily.
Add in the cost of stolen equipment, broken car windows, broken windows on their excavators, and other damaged equipment, and the cost out of the contractor’s pockets adds up.
“Our ask at AGC, to the city and to anybody who would listen, is not that we wave our magic wand and solve crime, because it’s obviously a bigger issue,” Kelly said. “But to not expect the contracting community to foot the bill for keeping themselves safe.”
When the city awards contracts to bidders, they specify that the contractors are responsible for workers’ safety on the job site. But Kelly questions whether those safety requirements include protecting themselves from bullets.
“We’re bidding ourselves out of jobs because we’re considering this added cost, and then the fact that we will have this added cost and still likely not be able to protect our guys, it’s a lose-lose for us on our side,” he said.
Kelly said as the city makes historic investments in infrastructure, the bids have gone up due to the lack of contractors willing to work in the city.
Contractors have the option of hiring security details which consist of off-duty NOPD officers. But Kelly said, even if there are officers available, the cost per hour and officer is too high for contractors already losing money through theft and delays.
“It’s been only a couple handfuls of contractors that are actively bidding to do New Orleans work. And yes, some of my members have decided not to do work in the City of New Orleans,” Kelly said.
“Every man comes out there to come home to his wife and kids and family, trying to better himself and do a good job at it,” the contractor said. “We have so much to worry about besides having to look over our shoulder.”
FOX 8 Defenders reached out to the Mayor’s Office with the story. Communications Director Beau Tidwell responded:
“Like nearly every major city nationwide, New Orleans is confronting a spike in violent crime during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we recognize that crime has impacted construction projects in some neighborhoods, the City’s construction contracts and Department of Public Works Specifications explicitly state that site security is the responsibility of the contractor. We have been very clear about this with construction contractors and the Louisiana Association of General Contractors.”
If you have a consumer complaint, call the FOX 8 Defenders at 1-877-670-6397, fill out our online complaint form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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