New Orleans sanitation workers strike for safety, pay

By Terry Evans
May 25, 2020

Sanitation workers in New Orleans who work for PeopleReady temp agency have been on strike since May 5, demanding a pay hike, safer working conditions and more respect. They work as hoppers, loading the trash into the garbage trucks. Unlike most New Orleans sanitation workers, they aren’t employees of Metro Service Group, which contracts with the city.  

“This has been going on long before the corona even came. We get paid late, everything is bad,” striker Gregory Woods told WDSU-TV. “We need better pay, better equipment. The trucks need to be fixed, they have hydraulic fuel leaking on us.”  

The workers demand a raise from $10.25 to $15 an hour, extra pay for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak and adequate safety equipment.  

Metro Service Group tried to break the strike — and boost its profits — by firing the hoppers and replacing them with inmates from prisons throughout Louisiana.  

“They are really trying to use those dudes to do our job, and they pay them way less than they were paying us,” Woods told the press. Democratic Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the administration had no objection.  

“We are pleased to be able to provide work-release-approved inmates with meaningful work at a good wage so that they can easily transition back into society,” read a statement from Metro Service Group bosses.  

Lock5, the company that hires out the prisoners’ labor, took a 64% cut of the $9.25 an hour Metro Service Group paid for each inmate. The prisoner’s share was $3.23 apiece, and the prisons take another cut. 

Boss Hootie Lockhart said Lock5 eventually pulled the prisoners off the job, claiming they hadn’t known they were being used as strikebreakers.  

The striking workers continue to picket and press their fight. They have protested outside Metro Service Group, carrying signs that read “I Am A Man” — the slogan used in the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King was assassinated while supporting them.