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Striking New Orleans Sanitation Workers Escalate Their Fight

Ben Depp
National Geographic Society
Workers strike for higher pay and more protections in front of the Metro Service Group facility on Old Gentilly Road, New Orleans, Louisiana. May 13, 2020.

Sanitation workers gathered at City Hall on Monday to demand an audience with the head of Metro Services Group, the garbage collection firm that employs them.

“We want to talk to Mr. Jimmie Woods, whenever, as soon as possible, because I'm ready to get back to work,” one hopper with the City Waste Union told the crowd.

Woods is the CEO of Metro Services, which employs the hoppers via a subcontract with People Ready, a job placement company.

The workers are entering the third week of their strike, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. As hoppers, they’re ones who jump on and off the garbage truck to empty bins. Truck drivers and others employed directly by Metro have not gone on strike.

The strikers are demanding $150 in hazard pay a week, more personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, plus a pay increase and repairs to some trucks.

They say PeopleReady and Metro have refused to meet with them.

“We just wanted $150 a week, just in case we may get sick. You gotta go buy your own medical, and you cough and you're scared to go to the doctor, all the bad things you hear. It's just crazy,” he said.

“I'd be scared to play with my kids. Some days I go home, I got to stop my daughter at the front door tell her, ‘You can't jump into daddy's arms right now, daddy can't give you no kiss.’

I'm scared I'm gonna get sick.”

Another hopper has a new grandchild that he’s never held, he added.

Both Metro and People ready have rejected claims that they haven’t provided ample PPE. In a release Monday, Metro said its trucks and equipment are kept in good order. The company said workers, including contract workers, are paid at least $11.19 an hour.

Metro also said it supports hazard pay, but can’t afford to offer it under its “low bid” contract with the City of New Orleans, adding that “no sanitation company in the City of New Orleans is currently paying hazard pay for their hoppers.” The 2019 contract is worth $10.7 million.

The press conference featured a series of hoppers and those supporting their calls for better conditions. A spokesperson from the office of Mayor LaToya Cantrell has said Metro is responsible for providing PPE to workers. The mayor has not taken a side in the strike.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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