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New Orleans Hires Scabs to Pick up the Trash

After sanitation workers went on strike, the city hired prisoners to collect trash

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jul 15, 2020

Since May 5th, sanitation workers in New Orleans have been on strike. The striking workers, called “hoppers”, work for a city contractor named Metro Service Group. According to the hoppers, Metro has failed to provide the workers with protective gear and while other essential workers were getting hazard pay, Metro was continuing to pay them just $1 for every 500lbs of trash they lifted, which equals out to about $10 an hour.

To get a better wage and more safety protections, the workers formed a union and went on strike. Calling themselves the City Waste Union, the hoppers began picketing outside of Metro’s headquarters carrying “I am a Man” signs and asking for a $15 an hour wage, paid sick leave, and appropriate protective gear. “We feel like we're putting our health at risk,” said sanitation worker Jerry Simon. “Every time we go out there, we could catch the virus.”

In response to the strike, Metro decided to fire all the workers. Metro, who has a $10.7 million annual contract with the city, decided to bring in scabs to replace them. Since collecting trash in the middle of a pandemic, in one of the hardest hits states, and in the heat of the summer isn’t an ideal job, Metro decided to bring in forced labor to replace the City Waste Union workers. For nearly two weeks, prisoners were stopping at houses in the neighborhood to collect trash, while being paid just $1.33 an hour. Of course, the prisoners weren’t seeing the majority of that money since 64% of it was taken by the private company that brokers work release positions. After an outcry, Metro replaced the prisoners with scabs who weren’t currently incarcerated.

Now two months after they went on strike, the City Waste Union members continue to walk the picket line, while dangerous Metro scabs pick up the trash across the city. In the typical “leadership” that New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell has shown throughout the strike and the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, she washed her hands of the issue saying the striking workers are not city employees and are employees of Metro Disposal, who are responsible for the treatment and protection of their workers.

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