In New Orleans, the City Waste Union is made up of “hoppers,” with wages as low as $10.25 an hour. Hoppers are the sanitation workers who begin work around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to “hop” off the garbage truck and lift 250,000 pounds of waste per week into garbage trucks. These essential workers began a strike on May 5 in response to safety and wages resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. On Monday, May 18th, the hoppers held a press conference to state their demands which include hazard pay, higher wages, and the availability of personal protective equipment.
The only protection offered to these workers are gloves– if available–and a green vest so cars passing can see them.
These workers who are not in a National Labor Relations Board recognized union are organizing under the banner of City Waste Union. Besides demands for PPE, living wages and hazard pay, hoppers are also fighting the use of prison labor as replacements, which has since been withdrawn, as well as ongoing wage theft.
The Metro Services Group which is the employer of the sanitation workers, has refused to meet with the union formation– in fact, Metro has said that the workers are liars and they should be fired if they don’t go back to work, told City Waste Union organizer Daytriàn Mariell Wilken.
After calling the strike on May 5, the hoppers were fired and replaced with prison work release labor where the referring company received 64 percent of the wages of those in the Lock5 LLC program. Upon hearing that there was a labor dispute these prisoners were removed. It was then announced that the sanitation workers could go back to work, but without meeting any of their demands.
“We see no reason to stop our protests until our demands are actually met. You’re a multi-million dollar company that can definitely provide for any human being that is chosen to sign a contract for you guys. So we know it’s in your ability,” said D’Artanian DeJean, one of the striking workers.
“We’d like to be treated properly. We’re not asking for much,” he said.
I am a Man
Drawing from the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike that was sparked when two workers were killed and where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, the City Waste Union is not only linking to great struggles in the past, but has received solidarity from sanitation workers from as far as Argentina.
“We deserve to be heard and deserve to be treated better. It’s not just ‘look at me I’m a sanitation worker,’ but ‘look at me I am a man.’ And we’re not going to stop until we’re heard,” emphasized City Waste Union worker Jonathan Edward.
Daytriàn Mariell Wilken, announced today that they reached their goal of $65,000 to support the striking workers. As the struggle continues, you can find their GoFundme page here.