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Workers’ War: The City Waste Union Is on Strike

14:05 May 19, 2020
By: John Glover

New Orleans's City Waste Union has been striking since Tuesday, May 5. The sanitation workers say they want better wages and safer workplace conditions. The laborers, while for all intents and purposes public employees, actually work for a private contractor called Metro Service Group (The city outsources trash pick-ups to third-party firms).

The coronavirus's spread precipitated the current stand-off between the two parties. The workers, a.k.a. "hoppers," have been receiving $10.25 per hour to work amid pandemic conditions. Metro Service Group expected its employees to show up for work without hazard pay and personal protection equipment (PPE).

The City Waste Union workers started striking after Metro Service Group refused to meet with them. The employer instead laid off workers who participated in the organization and brought in prison laborers to work as strike-breakers. The inmates did the job for as little $3.00 an hour, as the incarcerated are exempt from the normal labor protections.

As the workers' action continues into its third week, national and international union groups, media outlets, and individuals continue to express support for their struggle. A GoFundMe set up to provide strikers with financial cover got more than a thousand separate donations. Mayor Cantrell subtly admonished Metro Service Group in a statement, saying that the city contract should provide the "necessary items for [workers'] safety."

City Waste Union hoppers are turning to a rhetoric of universal human rights. One striker named Jonathan Edward said, "It's not just 'look at me, I'm a sanitation worker,' but 'look at me I'm a man.' And we're not going to stop until we're heard." As of now, there has been no parlay between the workers and their employer.

Striking hoppers held a press conference outside of City Hall yesterday demanding an audience with Metro Services Group leaders. New Orleans Public Radio reported on the scene in an article.

The workers carpooled to the event in vehicles whose windows had been painted with slogans such as "Support Sanitation Workers!" and "Pay Hoppers!" In addition to the hazard pay and PPE, the hoppers are apparently also asking for a general pay increase and repairs to dilapidated sanitation trucks.

Outside the steps of the capital building, they gathered in front of microphones and delivered testimonials. Many workers talked about the sacrifices they've had to make in order to keep working during an unprecedented disease outbreak. Many have had to keep their distance even from family members in order to keep showing up to work every day. They say their wages are not commensurate to the added stress in their lives.

City Services and People Ready, a "job placement" company with which the former subcontracts, released their own press releases yesterday. The employers denied the hoppers' claims and blamed the city government, saying that the $10.7 million contract isn't enough money to meet strike demands. As of now, there has been no parlay between the workers and their employer.

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