Metro Disposal Fires Sanitation Workers, Uses Prison Labor, as the City is Silent

The Metro Disposal sanitation workers – or “hoppers” – on strike. Courtesy of the New Orleans Workers Group Facebook page.

Last week, Big Easy Magazine reported on the sanitation truck workers on strike in Gentilly, protesting their abysmal pay and safety conditions. 

Four days ago, WWLTV reported that all of the striking workers were fired. 

Now, according to Payday Report, a Chattanooga-based cooperative, the workers were replaced by “transitional labor” – namely, incarcerated workers who are not paid a living wage. If these workers protest their conditions, they will return to prison.

Metro Disposal hailed their anti-labor cost-cutting measures as “helping persons who had been incarcerated return to work in a meaningful way.” However, according to Payday Report, Metro Disposal only pays these workers 13 percent of what the striking hoppers received – or about $1.33 an hour.  

Mr. Gregory Woods, a spokesperson for the striking workers, said that the use of transitional labor is a sideshow. “All of it is a hustle for them, a scam for them. They [are] saving money, that’s all they are doing – that’s all it is,” he said. 

According to WWL, the workers are being replaced by inmates from Livingston Parish.

Mr. Woods and the striking sanitation workers decried the City of New Orleans for refusing to meet with them to discuss their needs. 

“They aren’t trying to hear us,” said Woods. “They don’t care about us; they would let anything happen. If we were to get sick, they don’t care if we spread the disease. They just don’t care.” 

Mayor Cantrell briefly addressed the issue today on WBOK’s live streamed press conference. But she did not express much in terms of support.

In fact, Mayor Cantrell justified the use of “transitional labor,” as a common practice among contractors in New Orleans. Therefore, incarcerated individuals, who are paid far below living wage, may perform much of the city’s dirty work – year-round. 

Mayor Cantrell spoke to WBOK about the health disparities among black men dealing with coronavirus. But the mayor did not acknowledge the fact that all of the fired sanitation workers are black men.

“There has been a strike between the sanitation hoppers and the owners of the company,” the mayor said. “The city constantly monitors the actions of our contractors. The contractor is responsible for doing their job. That also means that their employees work for the contractor, not for the city.”

“However, we are wanting to make sure that we monitor their actions and everyone is held accountable,” she said.

The city does not view these workers as city contractors, thus exempting them from the living wage ordinance passed in 2015. 

The New Orleans Workers Group, which supports the striking workers, quickly criticized both Metro Disposal and the City of New Orleans. 

“On May 6, these workers were fired for refusing to risk their lives for Metro Service Group. Metro is now contracting with PeopleReady to bring in prisoners on work release who have no training and no say in their work on conditions on penalty of being locked up full time. Metro and PeopleReady are joint employers who receive all their money from city funds,” the Workers’ Group flyer reads. 

Press release on the sanitation workers’ strike, courtesy of the New Orleans Workers Group.

The People’s Defense League of South Louisiana is currently engaged in a “People’s Grocery Program,” to feed the families of the fired Metro Disposal employees.

The program “is our way of standing with working class and poor people in New Orleans, and standing against capitalist injustice,” a spokesperson told Big Easy Magazine.

This injustice, meanwhile, does not seem to bother our city leadership.

Until the city decides to take action on this matter, workers will be subject to unsafe conditions, New Orleans residents will be out of work for demanding basic rights, and Metro Disposal will make a windfall out of city money. 

5/13/20 (1:50 p.m.): This article was edited to add information from the People’s Defense League.

You can listen to Mayor Cantrell’s discussion with WBOK here

You can support the workers through the People’s Grocery Program by clicking here.

You can contribute to the workers’ GoFundMe campaign here.

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