As New Orleans Waits, Trash Piles

A New Orleans trash can” by scyllacat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Despite rising pressure, Metro Service Group is still failing to keep up with pick-ups throughout the areas of New Orleans it serves. New numbers from, add to that pressure. In June, 3,895 New Orleans residents called 311 to report late pickups for trash and recycling, and that’s a record high. The previous record was just a few months ago, April of 2021, when 1,556 residents called with similar complaints. To be clear, that’s a 140 percent increase over the span of two months. 

The vast majority of complaints are lodged against Metro, which is tasked with handling collections north of I-10. This area includes New Orleans East, Lakeview, Gentilly, the Bywater, and some of the Marigny. Metro owner, Jimmy Woods, has claimed that the issue will be resolved by the end of July, but – as Big Easy Magazine has reported before – there are questions without clear answers.

What is striking is that a lot of enunciations surrounding this issue don’t add up. Metro has made a lot of excuses for poor service, such as being hampered by an archaic city contract and pandemic-related worker shortages. We recommended previously that the city re-negotiate its contract with Metro if it’s truly restrictive, but there appears to be no intent of such. That said, it’s unclear how meaningful the city’s contract with Metro even is at this point, which also calls into question Metro’s narrative. 

The city has the ability to withhold payment to Metro for not upholding its contractual expectations, which some in the community have called for, but the city has not acted on this yet. Metro claimed that the contract restricted its ability to offer competitive wages, but also reportedly raised driver wages from the city contract figure. It’s unclear how the city contract with Metro is meaningfully restricting their actions because the contract appears to mean nothing in actuality. If that is the case, it’s unclear how the city contract is a viable excuse.

It’s also curious that Richard’s Disposal, responsible for collections south of I-10, has struggled significantly less than Metro, despite Metro claiming this is a nation-wide issue. Since January, 2,983 residents have called 311 to report late pick-up from Richard’s Disposal, less than the amount of calls reporting Metro in one month.

It’s hard not to feel like there’s smoke and mirrors surrounding the issue when Metro has gone to great labors to disassociate this issue from the issues raised by the 2020 hopper’s strike, but still uniquely struggles to properly meet their contract. Instead of properly addressing the issue head-on, the city appears fine with this ad-hoc approach to fixing the issue, which is concerning for many reasons. Metro should raise wages, but it should be done as part of a larger, formal renegotiation of their city contract to ensure transparency and oversight.

Another question worth asking is how the driver shortage happened to begin with. Trash collection is an essential service and demand for trash pick-ups is an issue unrelated to the pandemic. If Metro had enough drivers to meet its city contract requirements before, it begs the question of where their drivers went and why they left. It stands to reason that in the course of the pandemic a sizeable number of drivers were either fired or left. Perhaps this is what Metro means when they accuse the city contract of being too restrictive. If there was a pandemic exodus of Metro drivers due to wage concerns or, perhaps, work environment concerns, it would appear Metro’s approach to this was too little, too late. 

Regardless, trash is still not getting picked up and we are rapidly approaching the hottest part of the New Orleans summer, which spells out a sordid situation. New Orleans City Councilmember Jared Brosset proposed a $24 refund to those affected by late pick-ups. The refund would constitute a one-month waiver of sanitation fees. The proposal would also call for a review of Metro’s compliance with the city contract, a first step in the conversation towards negotiation. The mayor’s office has opposed this stating it would be an undue cost on the city that wouldn’t resolve the issue of late pick-ups. If the cost is undue, then perhaps the mayor’s office should be more proactive about their oversight of Metro because until resolution is found, Metro is placing undue costs on New Orleans residents who have to live with stinking piles of trash outside their homes. 

That said, $24 of relief is really not enough. The cost of sanitation services ought to be low because it is an essential service. When it’s not performed, the cost to residents is much greater than $24. Ask yourself whether you would accept $24 to have hot bins of trash outside your home for days on end. The fact of the matter is that Metro’s locally unique inability to resolve this in a timely manner is telling of the work environment they’re willing to offer. It’s time for the city to seriously revisit how it contracts out sanitation services.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *