By MIKE HOWELLS
New Orleans sanitation workers, who went on strike beginning on May 5, were all fired by the city and replaced by prison labor, in an act that perpetuates the old “Convict Leasing” system of the Jim Crow South. Prisoners are paid merely $1.33 an hour—13% of the sanitation workers’ $10.25 wage.
An earlier story, by Mike Howells of the General Assembly of New Orleans and the Revolutionary Socialist Network, appears below.
“All our lives are in danger. If we get sick our families get sick. And if our families get pretty soon everyone gets sick.” — Dartajean Daniels, City Waste Union of New Orleans.
On Monday, May 18, striking New Orleans sanitation workers and their community supporters, about 100 in total, gathered on the steps of New Orleans City Hall to rally in support of the demands being put forward by the City Waste Union. The sanitation workers initiated the strike against Metro Service Group, their de facto employer, at a time when the first local wave of the COVID-19 was at its height.
All the striking sanitation workers are hoppers. Hoppers do the back-breaking work of picking up curbside trash and disposing it into their assigned waste disposal truck. The hoppers are demanding that Metro provide every sanitation worker with PPE worthy of the name, $150 weekly hazard pay, a raise in hourly pay from $10.25 to $15, and formal recognition of the City Waste Union.
For the hoppers the COVID-19 epidemic has brought to a head the longstanding problem of unsafe working conditions. Addressing the rally, hopper D. Daniels noted, “I have worked for Metro for four years and they have never given me PPE.” Another striking hopper, Lemont, observed, “We are not getting PPE or safe working conditions. Lemont added, “We have to deal with hydraulic leaks. They are dangerous.” Jerik Simon, another striking hopper and a father of seven children, stressed that waste disposal work brings hoppers into contact with hazardous materials on a daily basis.
That New Orleans sanitation workers toil for $10.25 an hour without personal protective equipment or benefits speaks volumes about where Metro and City Hall really stand concerning the well being of New Orleans sanitation workers and their families. For public consumption the Metro Service Group claims it provides PPE for all workers who need it. The testimony of the striking sanitation workers exposes this self-serving Metro Group propaganda for what is, a lie! That the Mayor’s Office has done virtually nothing to correct this life-threatening situation at a time when it requires all who enter City Hall to be masked belies the Cantrell administration’s callous indifference to the lives of sanitation workers and their families.
The indifference of City Hall to the physical welfare of New Orleans sanitation workers is not simply a matter of grotesque class bias and the malignant influence of campaign contributions. The city of New Orleans contracts out curbside trash pickup service to the Metro and Richard’s Disposal. City Hall’s $10.7 million contract with the Metro make the city the, by far, largest customer of the waste management corporation. This reality translates into the city being the customer that benefits more than any other customer from Metro’s cheap labor-no benefits regime. Mayor Cantrell and city council, always eager to balance the city budget on the backs of workers, know this.
As the rally progressed it was announced that Jason Williams, a member of New Orleans city council, was attempting to arrange a sit-down meeting so a dialogue between between the hoppers and Metro could be begin. The proposed meeting ended up being scheduled for May 23. The hoppers showed up but Metro did not.
Winning the demands of the hoppers strike necessitates that the City Waste Union and their supporters turn up the heat on the bosses of City Hall, Mayor Cantrell and the New Orleans city council. Convincing City Hall to cutoff payments to Metro till the waste management meets the demands of the City Waste Union would result in an enormous shift in the balance of power in favor of the hoppers. To accomplish this, the hoppers and their supporters must put the political feet of the mayor and the members of city council to the fire of determined mass resistance from below. This can be done. But to do this, hoppers must shed any illusions about City Hall or the Orleans Parish Democratic Party Machine being in their corner.
Photo: GoFundMe / Democracy Now!