Category Archives: Labor Organizing

holding trucks

Hoppers Take a Stand on Unfair Labor Practices

New Orleans        Local 100, United Labor Unions, has represented hoppers for more than twenty-five years.  The hopper is a mechanical term of art on a garbage truck.  It’s the round cylinder at back of the truck where the garbage is collected and crushed before heading to the landfill.  In New Orleans, the laborers who work on the back of the truck and either toss the garbage into the back of the truck or use the mechanical arm to dump the load into the hopper are the themselves called “hoppers.”  They work the hopper, and they are constantly running and hopping on the truck for the load at the next house.  In Dallas, where we have also represented these workers at different times, they are called “gunslingers.”  Who knows what they might be called elsewhere? Regardless, the universal situation is that someone somewhere is handling the business side of garbage, and these are the laborers that do it.  Oh, and add to that the fact that here, like so many other places, these workers are temporary, not regular, permanent workers.

We won an election to represent these workers decades ago in New Orleans and a number of other cities.  We used the fact that they were temporary workers to win their first contract.  We bargained until we were close, so that we could force the company’s hands in the summer.   In July, New Orleans is as hot and humid as the swampland surrounding the city.  As temps, our hoppers could show up for work or not.  For several days when the negotiations were near impasse, they just didn’t feel like going to work.  With garbage festering on the street, and Waste Management on the hook for delivery, we settled the contract late that Friday night.

From then until 2005 when Katrina hit, Local 100 arguably may have had the best paid garbage laborers in the country.  After the hurricane, the recovery process transferred garbage and trash to FEMA and its contractors, so our employers and the workers were replaced.  When the city finally got back on its feet and let the contracts, we then had to reorganize the hoppers.  One crooked outfit has been at the NLRB with us for years and owes our workers more than $200,000 in back pay.  With Richards Disposal, his son runs the subcontractor for hoppers called Creative Vision, and that has been a slow dance.  Finally, we agreed to a contract with the lawyers, and the owner failed to execute, forcing us to file charges with the NLRB for this company, like we had for so many others.  Time has drug on with the NLRB slow walking the charges, and the company double talking the execution.

Leadership Meeting

The union’s message to the workers has been clear.  Take action or eat crow with no contract.  Finally, the workers had enough and picked what turned out to be a cold, rainy morning to refuse to get on the trucks when they showed up at the pickup spot between 5 AM and 6 AM.  Seven trucks drove off at 7 AM without hoppers.  The manager showed up at the corner store where twenty or more hoppers were still standing.  The company was calling everywhere for hoppers.  At 8:30 AM, we met with more than 20 in our union hall.  They were solid, and they were winning.

The company’s lawyer has now called to offer a deal.  Maybe this will finally be settled, and the hoppers can celebrate getting their money?  Maybe, not.  The one thing that is clear is what we always knew.  Without worker action, there is no union.  With collective action, there is a union, and the workers win.  Period.

Hoppers Leaders Caucus at ULP action

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Pro-Labor are not the Same as Pro-Union Policies

New Orleans       To have a number of Democratic candidates for President full-throatily espousing policies that seem to favor labor is so rare that it earned a headline in the New York Times saying, “Democrats Grow Bolder With Pro-Labor Policies.”  Hey, that’s got to be good news under any circumstances, so let’s see what it’s all about.

We know virtually all of the candidates are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Andrew Yang who is not at the top of the pack is still getting solid attention advocating for a guaranteed annual wage or universal basic income, as it’s known more broadly.  Something is bound to happen on this issue, one way or another.  The federal minimum wage can’t stay permanently at $7.25 per hour.

A good number of candidates understand that the definitions of employees versus independent contractors must be clarified so that tech and other exploitation of workers can be stopped.  Fast forward to thirty years from now when there will be a story every other day in the papers, if indeed there are still papers, about the social security crisis then when tens of millions of app-workers from this period don’t have enough benefits to survive their lengthening lifespans and government has to bailout the workers because it subsidized the tech predation now while narcotized by its hype.  Importantly, this can be done through the Department of Labor, rather than Congress, so it might actually happen as well.

Other candidates want to prohibit non-compete agreements and mandatory arbitration.  One blocks worker mobility, while the other handcuffs workers to bad work and employers.  Admittedly, it is amazing how non-compete agreements have spread even to the service industry, but most of this advocacy is a plum for professions, techsters, and middle-class, suburban voters.

More candidates are talking about sectoral bargaining, largely I would bet because SEIU has made this a litmus test for their support.  The Times reports that some support for these positions around sectoral bargaining are coming from a group at Harvard and something they have convened called the Clean Slate for Worker Power, which has assembled some folks to “reimagine labor law from the ground up.”  I can already see the skepticism clouding your faces.  I looked at the program for their first convening in March and sectoral bargaining didn’t seem to be much in evidence actually, compared to the discussions about worker centers, community-labor partnerships, new formations of organized workers, and worker-support and partnership efforts, many well-known.

The interest in sectoral bargaining seems to come largely from the European experience.  The concept is that with a showing of support in an industry there would be tripartite discussions convened by the government involving representatives of employers and unions to negotiate baseline levels of wages and terms and conditions of employment for workers in these industries.  Extensive conversations with union organizers in Europe indicate that indeed wages and standards rise for nonunion workers at some level, which might be why it has a growing popularity among the chattering class.  Organizers are careful to point out that the body of labor laws benefiting workers is also much deeper and more expansive than we have in the US.  Additionally, though all argue that it helps unions survive at some existential level, none argue that it builds unions and or worker power on the job, independent of unions.  In fact, my recent visits with organizers in the Netherlands and Germany found me listening to the ways that sectoral bargaining had co-opted unions and left workers weaker.  Some ostensibly pro-labor proposals are not the same as pro-union policies, especially of the legal and rights infrastructure for workers and their unions do not receive more protection.

There does seem to be robust discussion of what we have advocated for over 25 years:  majority unionism, or what some of them call minority unionism.  That’s good news, especially if it comes with any commitment to actually engage in the real work!

To underline this quick inventory, I would argue none of this is enough.  We need to push harder.  The position of workers won’t substantially change, unless the ability of unions to protect and advance their interests is not welded tightly to the same policies.

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