Living Wages for Garbage Workers

Labor Organizing

P1010013 (1)Dallas A meeting of Local 100 leaders and stewards may be one of the only places in the country where you can hear a lively discussion break out over dinner on the merits and demerits of arm hoist back loading trucks versus side and front loaders and the relative dangers of a 96 gallon versus an 80 gallon can, but that was exactly the discussion over dinner after the Local 100 leadership from Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans who were meeting with Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who came by to visit.  Local 100 for years has represented “hoppers,” as they are called in New Orleans or “gunslingers,” as they are called in Dallas, but no matter what their names these are the laborers that handle the business end of garbage in one of the toughest, most thankless, and most important jobs in a city’s maintenance.

Despite the importance of the work in the perilous state of big city finance there is a constant push to shave every penny from the cost of collection, and that often means trying to push down the wages and benefits of garbage workers, who are assumed to be not only invisible but as easily discarded and ignored as the garbage they handle.  In New Orleans over the last dozen years Local 100 has pushed the wages of such workers up to the point where they are very respectable and can compare favorably with similar workers anywhere in the country.  In Dallas where we organized such workers and are in the first contract, the process has only just begun it seems and the campaign has focused on convincing the City Council that despite the subcontractor, they have to appropriate enough to ensure a living wage for such workers.

All of which made Angela Hunt’s visit over dinner very popular because she has been the leading champion of Local 100 and the workers in this fight.  Remarkably she also realizes that there needs to be a lot more push to get this done.

To applause she reported on the fact that she had accepted the challenge and had ridden on a truck with our guys during the summer, so she knew exactly what the challenges were from narrow alleys to creaky hoppers and no air conditioning.  Of 5000 pictures on her council website she reported that the most frequently viewed shots by her constituents were the pictures and videos of her day on the garbage truck.  She said this with some surprise because her district was diverse taking in not only East Dallas and the warehouses and bungalows around Love Field but also the high priced areas around Turtle Creek.

Whether it’s riding the truck or just imaging your feet in a garbage worker’s shoes, a little more empathy, as Hunt has demonstrated, would move a lot more workers a lot farther from minimum wages.