As Businesses Open, Labor Strikes Gain Ground in New Orleans

Argentinian sanitation workers voice their solidarity with striking hoppers in New Orleans. Courtesy of Left Voice.

Despite the City of New Orleans entering “Phase One” of its reopening, some workers are fighting their unsafe working conditions – and their causes are gaining traction. 

While Garden District coffee shop Still Perkin’ was set to open on May 16, barista and café workers went on strike. According to a flyer posted by the New Orleans Workers Group, management called employees back to work on May 13, with no hazard pay or explanation of new safety protocol.

Employees of Still Perkin’ protest working conditions amidst the city’s reopening. Courtesy of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance.

“The owners intended to pay us $8.25/hour, using an SBA paycheck loan,” the flyer read. “Despite the ability to request additional loan money to cover our tipped wages, the owners refused to do so.”

 “Before the pandemic, Still Perkin’ baristas earned an average of $15/hour with tips.”

The employees demanded a return to their fifteen dollar wage, paid sick leave, personal protective equipment, written safety protocols, and adherence to Phase One safety protocols. 

Workers also protested in front of City Hall today, holding banners demanding that the city remain closed to protect workers in New Orleans. This demonstration was organized by the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance.

Hospitality workers protest the opening of local businesses at City Hall. Courtesy of Christina Nesheiwat.

“Most folks being pushed back into unsafe working conditions are black,” a post by the New Orleans Workers Group read. “This city would have no real economy if it wasn’t for the labor of native New Orleanians, yet @MayorCantrell has no problem sending black people to the slaughter.”

The Workers Group has also been supporting the striking sanitation workers, which Big Easy Magazine covered on May 5

Last week, Big Easy Magazine also reported that the City of New Orleans demurred when Metro Disposal began using prison labor to replace the striking sanitation workers.

Still, the hoppers gained a tremendous boost of morale, when striking sanitation workers in Argentina sent a video in support of the local workers. 

On May 11, the organization Left Voice posted a video of the South American sanitation workers. 

“We are aware of the situation of the sanitation workers in New Orleans who are facing a difficult strike over working conditions,” Guillermo Aleman, a sanitation worker and Left Front coalition member said in Spanish. “From here, where we are, San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina, we want to send you a strong message in solidarity.” 

Argentinian sanitation workers voice their solidarity with striking hoppers in New Orleans. Courtesy of Left Voice.

“Don’t give up and continue to struggle for your rights.” 

As for local business, tensions will likely continue to escalate until owners and managers recognize the rights of their workers.

“We consider our struggle for safety and higher wages as part of the larger struggle of workers in New Orleans,” the Still Perkin’ flyer read. “Hospitality workers across our city face abusive conditions, lack of benefits, and widespread wage theft.”

And now, workers around the world are watching the actions of city leaders.

5/17/20 (2:19 p.m.) – This story was edited to reflect that the City Hall demonstration was organized by the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance. 

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