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The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE’s) American counterpart has set up a $100,000 (U.S.) fund to help thousands of members devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has also set up a toll-free hotline for members in need of assistance on its website at www.afscme.org.

AFSCME is also collecting donations of clothing and shoes for Hurricane Katrina victims. Members outside the disaster zone are invited to help their sisters and brothers by offering temporary housing or by sponsoring a Katrina family.

AFSCME says it has thousands of members in the hardest-hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, including 800 workers in New Orleans alone.

Meanwhile, AFSCME president Gerald W. McEntee has joined American and international labour leaders, progressive politicians and concerned citizens in condemning President George W. Bush’s move last week to allow clean-up contractors to duck out of minimum wage laws.

Bush signed an executive order suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, Depression-era legislation that requires federal contractors to pay workers at least the prevailing wages in the area where the work is conducted. It applies to federally funded construction projects such as highways and bridges.

On rare occasions, past presidents have temporarily suspended the law during major national emergencies. However, wages in and around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are already among the lowest in the country. It’s feared that removing the legislation will lead to the exploitation of a sudden glut of desperate, poor and unemployed workers along with widespread profiteering by contractors who will simply pocket the short-term savings.

Unfortunately, the right wing is determined to cynically exploit hurricane Katrina to enact an anti-worker and anti-family agenda,” McEntee said.