Oil cleanup workers protest ‘flotel’ housing

Brett Michael Dykes
National Affairs Reporter
The Upshot

One of the logistical difficulties in combating the Gulf oil disaster has been finding housing for the thousands of workers brought in by BP and its contractors to work on cleanup and containment operations. Many of the coastal communities, especially in oil-soaked Louisiana, are sparsely populated and don't have the ability to accommodate a sudden influx of people. Enter "flotels."

Many workers have been housed in floating hotel/motels —  structures similar to trailers or shipping containers stacked on top of each other on a barge.

[Photos: Latest from the Gulf oil spill]

BP told a New Orleans Fox affiliate that the flotels were useful for keeping workers close to cleanup sites, thereby eliminating travel time.

But some aren't happy about it. In fact, a group of fishermen decided to go on strike in protest of their accommodations, and some workers have expressed concerns about safety.

"We're on strike, so we're not going to work," Jules Dag told WDSU, an NBC affiliate in New Orleans. "I'm not living on no quarterboat," Dag said. "When I signed up, the agreement was we lived at a motel or somewhere they supplied us to live."

Dag said that some workers have no choice but to accept lodging at a flotel because they've yet to be paid and have depleted whatever savings they had as a result.

"We ain't been paid yet," Dag said. "We've used almost everything we got to live out here already. Forty days, we ain't seen nothing yet. What we supposed to do for money?"

One worker compared the living conditions to jail, saying, "If I wanted to be in prison, I would break the law and go to jail." Privacy is scant, typically limited to little more than a retractable curtain, with common areas for showers, eating and leisure activities. The flotels are powered by generators, with each pod holding 12 bunks. The close quarters made another worker concerned about disease.

A fire even broke out inside a flotel in Plaquemines Parish on Tuesday night, injuring five cleanup workers. A spokesman for the local sheriff's office said the injuries were minor, though — mostly smoke inhalation.

BP did not respond to The Upshot's requests for comment on the latest developments.

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