New Orleans ‘hoppers’ fight for wages, conditions

By George Chalmers
August 31, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Since May 5 sanitation workers, the “hoppers” who ride the back of the garbage trucks and do heavy lifting, have been on strike to build their union, the City Waste Union. They are fighting for a living wage, beyond the $10.25 per hour paid by a temp agency, PeopleReady, which covers some sanitation services in the city.

The workers are demanding safe working conditions: clean drinking water; gloves to handle contaminated material, possibly tainted with coronavirus; and uniforms. They demand that the trucks be maintained so hydraulic hoses don’t spew hot fluid drenching them and filling their shoes with a toxic liquid that doesn’t evaporate but penetrates the skin. 

Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party 2020 candidate for U.S. president, spoke with the strikers Aug. 13. Striker Kendrick Anderson explained, “The hoppers have struck several times before for better daily pay, winning $85, then $95, to $100.” However when we started getting paid by the hour and we got $10.25 last year under the new staffing agency, it was a pay cut.

“We thought it would be another short strike. But this time the bosses drew a line.” They brought halfway house inmates to replace the strikers. “Inmates were threatened with having parole cancelled and being sent back to virus-infested prisons if they didn’t go. To do the work, inmate crews were rotated to take a break from the heat and the heavy lifting.” Anderson said, “We even gave them water, Gatorade and sausage biscuits to help them make it.”

The use of inmates was withdrawn after two weeks of public outrage. Most of the 60 hoppers went back to work, but 14 have held out, maintaining the strike and the fight for their union. Today drivers on the garbage trucks show solidarity by honking their horns as they pass the gathering in the nearby shopping center. “[Working] hoppers say thank you,” Anderson explained, for maintaining the strike.

Kennedy told the hoppers, “Your fight is an important example of workers taking action against attacks by the bosses today.” 

Anderson said the 14 go house to house with flyers to win support. “We wash cars, cut grass.” The niece of one of the strikers set up a “Go Fund Me” account to raise money. Striker Jonathan Edwards, a 13-year veteran, explained that with all the support they’ve won they are able to use it to support other causes, like organizing a giveaway for the homeless, which “feels good to us.” 

“I’m looking forward to telling the story of your fight everywhere I go,” Kennedy said.