Workers Demand Inclusion in N.O. Bill of Rights at City Council Meeting

Ballot Amendment to Enshrine Worker Rights in City Charter Appears Likely to Advance

Workers organizing with Step Up Louisiana and allies held a rally at City Hall before testifying in support of a Workers Bill of Rights at a New Orleans City Council Economic Development Committee hearing, Tuesday. Council members appeared receptive to changing the City Charter to enshrine worker rights, paving the way for the campaign to take the proposed amendment to voters this fall.

“I don’t think you should work for a company or a corporation and get home and you can’t even feed your children or pay your light bill,” Step Up Louisiana member Gaye Brown told the Council. “We can do better to help each other.”

Workers were joined in their support of the Workers Bill of Rights by business owners, advocates and allied organizations, including the New Orleans Department of Health and the local chapters of the Sierra Club, the Democratic Socialists of America, United Labors Unions and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We know the connection between good jobs, economic stability and health is undeniable. We know that in our city the lack of economic stability for a large portion of the population is directly linked to poor health outcomes and premature death,” said New Orleans Health Department Deputy Director Jeanie Donovan. “There is abundant evidence to show that each of the rights included in the proposed Workers Bill of Rights charter changes are directly linked to improved health outcomes for workers and their families.”

“For me I would honestly say that we should raise up the pay and make living conditions better, this is what the workers bill of rights deals with!” said Shermond Esteen, owner of Nonno’s Cajun Cuisine. “It would definitely boost the amount of money coming into the restaurant.”

“A pack of cheese is about $8 these days, and me making $8 ain’t gonna cut it,” said Step Up Canvasser Kool Black. “You got folks living in two bedroom, three bedroom homes paying 15, 16, 17 hundred dollars a month rent alone. After you finish paying your bills you don’t have money to do anything with.”

The ballot proposal, brought to the Council by Step Up Louisiana and other advocates, would amend language in the New Orleans Bill of Rights. To date, the series of value statements in the city’s Bill of Rights has not explicitly mentioned workers or worker rights.

The ballot language co-authored by all Councilmembers says:

(11) The people have the right to live in economic prosperity and to receive fair living wages for their labor, equal pay, comprehensive healthcare coverage and paid leave for the purposes of medical, family, bereavement, and vacation time.

(12) The people have the right to a safe workplace, which complies with all federal, state, and local workplace laws and regulations, including wage and hour laws, including the right to organize and to associate freely in pursuit of workplace and economic justice.

Getting the Workers’ Bill of Rights on the ballot in November is the first in a series of priorities for the Workers’ Bill of Rights campaign. Once passed, the initiative also intends to work with the city government to incentivize businesses that provide all of the criteria outlined in the Workers’ Bill of Rights. Through a partnership with the New Orleans Health Department, advocates plan to create a Healthy Workplace designation for these employers and establish Louisiana’s first Workers’ Commission.

Lack of access to worker rights is a public health crisis. Many poor and Black New Orleans workers lack access to health insurance, paid sick leave, living wages and safe and healthy workplaces. Workplace hazards and lack of time and resources to access healthcare play a determining role in a wide range of public health issues and contribute to the 20+ gap in life expectancy between residents of the richest, white neighborhoods and residents of the poorest, Black neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Speakers at the “Speak Out” in advance of the hearing included:

  • David Williams, Dollar Store Worker and Step Up Member

  • Councilmember Helena Moreno

  • Kenya Slaughter, Step Up Louisiana

  • Curtis Williams, Step Up Louisiana

About Step Up Louisiana

Step Up Louisiana is a community based organization committed to building power to win education and economic justice for all. Step Up works with Louisianans of all races and ages to “step up” by campaigning, organizing from a racial justice perspective, and holding public officials accountable. The organization partners with parents, workers, students, and community members to disrupt systemic oppression in our schools and workplaces through voter education, advocacy, and action.

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