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The Essential Workers of the Climate Crisis

The Essential Workers of the Climate Crisis

A photograph of a flooded neighborhood in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.

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Photograph by Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg / Getty

After storms and other disasters, legions arrive in the night to cover buildings with construction materials, remove ruined walls and floors, as well as start putting back together cities. They are mostly undocumented and mainly migrants. They are crucial in an era of increasing climate related disasters. But, the workers are vulnerable to accidents, wage theft, deportation, and other hazards. “Right now, there is a base camp for the National Guard; FEMA officials in Louisiana are staying in hotels,” Saket Soni, the founder of the nonprofit group Resilience Force, tells Sarah Stillman. “But the workers who are doing the rebuilding with their hands are sleeping under their cars to protect themselves from rain.” Stillman travelled to Louisiana, to the parking lot of a Home Depot, to report on Soni’s effort to organize and win recognition for these laborers as a distinct workforce performing essential work. “These years ahead,” Stillman notes, “are going to bring more brutal hurricanes, more awful floods, more terrifying wildfires and heatwaves—more than any of us is really prepared to handle. . . . And what’s at stake is not just these workers’ fates but also our collective shared survival.”

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