New Orleans City Workers Organizing Committee Commits to Unionizing

Photo by Jenn Bentley

On Tuesday, the New Orleans City Workers Organizing Committee expressed gratitude that mandatory citywide furloughs implemented by the Cantrell administration last fall are ending. However, the group maintains that the furloughs never should have happened in the first place.

“NOCWOC opposed these furloughs of workers in the midst of a global pandemic, widespread unemployment, and constant threat of the Climate Crisis,” the group said in a press release. “We knew that the effects would harm New Orleanians, undermine our city’s public safety and ability to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, and disproportionately impact the City Workers who make the least yet were unilaterally those deemed essential. We also do not forget the method of enacting the furloughs was extraoridnarily unjust: they were implemented unilaterally from the top, without input from workers, waiving Civil Service Commission rules that protect workers’ rights, and following a convroversial circumvention of the nomination process for said Commission.”

In October 2020, Mayor LaToya Cantrell quietly replaced the chair of the New Orleans Civil Service Commission without any public discussion or explanation. Cantrell lobbied the New Orleans City Council to replace Michelle Craig, who had led the Civil Service Commission for five years, on the grounds that union interests were overrepresented on the commission. An investigation by The Lens later found that the New Orleans City Council may have violated the Louisiana Open Meeting’s Law when it confirmed Ruth White Davis as Craig’s replacement.

After replacing the head of the Civil Service Commission – which oversees issues like employee discipline, newly created positions, layoffs, and furloughs – Cantrell unilaterally implemented unpaid furloughs for approximately 4,000 city employees, effectively cutting their paychecks by around 10%.

At an Employee Town Hall on Monday, workers requested a plan from the Mayor or CAO about hiring new workers, as well as giving departments the liberty to give raises, promotions, and benefits in order to retain top talent in city positions.

“In summation, the City administration’s response was: ‘No, we are still in a recession and must work within the [self-imposed] boundaries we find ourselves in,” the NOCWOC stated.

“This comes in the context of the Mayor’s emphasis on serving; we, as frontline City Workers, are much more acutely aware of the sacrifice of serving than administrators who comfortably make over $100k in a city where the average wage is $39K a year. Working as a Public Servant does NOT mean default poverty wages and dangerous working conditions – that is not the sacrifice one signs up for,” the group continued.

As a result, the NOCWOC has recommitted themselves to organizing into a union for New Orleans city workers. By unionizing, the group hopes to win higher wages, ensure more equitable hiring practices, and oppose the outsourcing of work historically done by city workers.

“We are optimistic for our immediate future with the prospect of federal aid funds. But the work to ensure a just and equitable environment for the Workers of the City of New Orleans is just beginning,” The group said. They acknowledged several challenges need to be addressed, including:

  • Furloughs
  • An economic downturn exacerbated by fiscal austerity policies
  • A citywide “brain drain”
  • Persistent and intentional understaffing
  • Unnecessary hiring, promotion, and raise freezes
  • The preservation of unnecessary budget cuts
  • The lack of hiring efforts

“The Mayor and CAO have shown they do not trust City Workers to be part of the solution; therefore we recommit to representing the best interests of the City Workers of New Orleans because that represents the best interests of the Citizens of New Orleans,” the NOCWOC said. “We are the people who keep our city safe and moving forward, from sanitation workers to the folks performing essential social work services for citizens and the heroes who keep our water clean and roads repaired.”

The group is currently circulating a petition for city workers who oppose additional layoffs or furloughs of city workers.

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