Waffle House, Roadie, and, Hey, Organizer, Are You Going My Way?

Roadie_App_screenshotsNew Orleans         I’m not an Uber-fan.  Cabdrivers have a rough road to travel and city regulations protect their safety and the passengers, so what Uber calls “disruption,” looks a lot like another corporate scam on workers and their communities.  On the other hand, I’m no fool.  And, when it looked impossible to catch a cab from Gatineau, Quebec to the Ottawa airport, I asked the Ottawa ACORN head organizer, Jill O’Reilly, and sure enough she could navigate the Uber-app, and minutes later I was sailing to the airport at half the price with no hassle with a driver from Delhi, talking about organizing there and Uber here.

On the other hand, neither am I stupid.  A huge amount of the cost of a union or any organization, usually about two-thirds, goes to keep organizers on staff, on the phone, and on the road.  There are bills in the Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana legislatures to repeal all payroll deductions.  Wisconsin and other states have instituted right-to-work laws in what used to be solid union country.  I recently finished reading an excellent book by political scientist, Mancur Olson, called The Logic of Collective Action.  Published in 1965, it’s a little dated, but he makes some important points, and one of the scariest is that he doesn’t believe that large scale labor unions can survive without compulsory dues collection systems.  So, if I’m still trying to figure out biodiesel, contemplating large scale dumpster diving, recycling schemes, and opening up a second Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, why wouldn’t I look real seriously at an Uber-style app used by a company called Roadie that has begun operations in the Southern states and recently announced a partnership with the 1750-store Waffle House chain which operates in half the country?

According to the Wall Street Journal, where I originally stumbled on the story, along with a bunch of other techie blogs and “oh, gee” stories in mainstream sources, here is the way Roadie wants to work.  They want to recruit itinerants, though they claim they are looking for students, which makes sense for their image I’m sure.  A bit like the old drive-away car deals, which I knew well back-in-the-day, you would hit the app and say you are going from say Atlanta to Jacksonville or maybe New Orleans to Shreveport and passing points on the way.  If they have a business that is trying to deliver a package and not pay UPS, FedEx or others the premium, they undercut the price.  The driver gets 80% of the money, minus one dollar for insurance or something, the company, like Uber, gets the rest, and everyone is happy, supposedly.

I can remember in the late 1970’s financing a trip to all of the ACORN western offices one summer with a driveway Mercedes that someone in New Orleans needed to return to their parents in the hills of Oakland.  They paid for the gas of course, and I hit all the offices in Texas, Arkansas, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona before pulling into a Bay Area driveway.

Here are some sample prices the Journal pulled from Roadie:

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Some deliveries are door-to-door, but part of the buzz on this deal is the fact that Roadie has partnered with the ubiquitous Southern roadside feature, Waffle House, as a pickup and drop off point.  Heck, the House is even giving drivers a free waffle and a drink when they finish the job, which sounds like a heckuva deal.

So, hey, if organizers need to be on the road, why not throw something in the trunk with them and cover the cost of the trip?  We’re going to have to be creative to keep the wheels of progress – and people – moving!


Please enjoy, Indigo Girls’ Happy in the Sorrow Key


Dumpster Diving and Internal Income

dumpster-diving-e1423706610249-620x289New Orleans   When I’m in India the hawkers, street sellers, and even the recyclers always, and I mean always, ask me what it is like for people who are in their profession in the United States.  When I answer the hawkers for example, and say that compared to India, we have almost none, they look at me incredulously, smile, and shake their heads, clearly not really knowing if I’m giving them the truth or pulling their legs.

The more than 100,000 recyclers in Mumbai or Delhi or other large cities who collect and then sell to brokers based on their specialties of copper or paper or whatever would be similarly confused.   They assume that the richer the turf, the higher the yield, and just maybe the recyclers are right, and we should look at this differently even as a social enterprise.

I read a piece in the February issue of Wired about a fellow named Matt Malone in Austin, Texas who for the last nine years has wildly supplemented his day job by dumpster diving, largely in big retail establishments.  In two nights of digging through trash with the reporter, he found stuff he could sell for $5000.  In India this would have supported a dozen recyclers in our Dharavi Project in Mumbai for a year!  In the US it might support a lot of organizing, if done on a systematic basis.

Malone had a day job and got into dumpster diving the same way that hundreds or maybe thousands of organizers have before him.  He was assigned by his techie outfit the task of coming up with a plan to test a client’s security.  He made the natural assumption when starting with nothing that he might learn a lot about them from their garbage. Organizers, especially union organizers, have dumpster dived for decades for old payroll printouts which give a sense of the size of the staffing, wages, job classifications, and other information.   Malone’s investment is minimal.  He has a flashlight with a magnetic clamp so he can affix it to the side of a dumpster.  Other than that, a pair gloves and clothes that can handle rough wear, he’s pretty much set.

Here’s the kicker though.  He thinks if he worked at dumpster diving 240 days per year he could make $600,000 annually.  That’s the kind of figure that gets your attention.  My recycling members in India would be ashamed to have me as an organizer, if I didn’t look into this dirty gold mine more closely.

Is dumpster diving illegal?  A 1988 Supreme Court ruling in California v. Greenwood held that “when a person throws something out in a public space, they have no reasonable expectation of privacy.” Greenlight to go!   The only yellow warning light has to do with trespass. If the dumpster is on private property or marked “no trespassing,” then you could have a problem.  According to Wired, Malone operates with what he calls the “move along rule:  if a store employee, security guard, or police tells you to ‘move along,” you should….”  In other words, like in all of organizing, as I’ve always said, “there’s no substitute for good judgement.”

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be work.  I’m also not saying that there aren’t costs involved, just as I know from watching our Indian recyclers work.  It meant a lot when we got a pickup in Mumbai.  You need an area to sort.  You have to make the sale and do so at a fair price.

It’s hard to find money for building peoples’ organizations.  As the saying goes, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”  But, seriously, there may be a gold in the garbage that we are well qualified to mine!


Chambers Brothers – Time Has Come Today (live)