Dozens of sanitation workers in New Orleans went on strike for COVID-19 safety equipment last Wednesday, May 6. The strikers make only $10.25/hour and are employed by a temp agency, People Ready/Metro Services, which contracts with the city government for garbage collection. In addition to demanding personal safety equipment, the strikers want the company to repair dangerously defective garbage compactors. They also want a pay raise.
The next day, People Ready fired the workers and then arranged with local Democratic Party politicians to replace them with convicts on work-release from a nearby prison. The work-release prisoners will be paid $1.33/hour.
The strikers are demanding that New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell agree to their demands and put them back on the job. Democratic Party politicians like Cantrell, the first African American woman mayor of New Orleans, like to claim the heritage of the Civil Rights Movement, but so far she has refused to even meet with the strikers, saying she has “no objection” to the use of convict labor.
Martin Luther King was murdered while supporting a strike by garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee 52 years ago. If Dr. King were alive today, what would he say to Mayor Cantrell? New Orleans sanitation workers are only one example of how essential frontline working people are defending their health during the COVID crisis. Nurses, meatpacking workers, and others who have refused to work under unsafe conditions are showing us all how to stand up to bosses who demand we go back to work long before it is safe.
Featured image credit: WDSU via Payday Report
Striking New Orleans sanitation workers speak to local news. In the background, someone holds a sign reading I AM A MAN, a slogan of the workers of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike.