Hundreds of people rallied at the state Capitol Saturday, pushing state officials to give more hurricane reconstruction work to Louisiana residents.
“This is not just a New Orleans struggle,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. “Our nation’s character is on trial. This is our nation’s challenge.”
The storms left as many as 296,000 Louisiana residents without jobs, costing $300 million in unemployment benefits, state officials say.
Sharpton accused the federal government of awarding bids to politically connected companies at the expense of local contractors. He specifically named Halliburton Co., formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, which has a subsidiary doing cleanup work in Mississippi.
Edward D. Hawkins, 55, said he wants to use his fleet of bulldozers and other heavy equipment to help, but can’t get a contract.
“They won’t give us the big service contracts, only manual labor,” said Hawkins, a New Orleans resident.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco promised rallying workers better access to jobs, and said a free shuttle service will transport evacuees in Baton Rouge to New Orleans for work beginning Monday.