KABF Documentary is a Winner

Little Rock      JT Tarpley approached us out of the blue three years ago with a wild and crazy idea.  He wanted to make a documentary about KABF, our 100,000-watt noncommercial radio station broadcasting throughout central Arkansas.  This was during the time of troubles in the wake of the mind-blowing election of Donald Trump to the presidency turning so many people’s world upside down.  Tarpley’s notion was that he would tell the story of the resistance, if you will, through the lens of a foundational community institution, KABF.

How in the world would he manage that?  We didn’t know, but of course we said, yes, what did we have to lose?  It was a documentary after all.  Many are called, and few are completed, so what’s to worry.  The ACORN documentary, “The Organizer” drug on for eight years.  JT swore his would be different.  He was going to do it on a shoestring, and he was going to do it quickly.  Famous last words.

We heard from him last year.  Would a couple of us be willing to take a look at what he had been doing the last two years?  Ok, sure.  He then told me it was 180 minutes long.  Holy-moly!  We’ll watch some of it, but….  So, Toney Orr, KABF’s board chairmen, and John Cain, the program director, and me sat down with him and watched a bit on a busy day.  Our advice?  What did we know?  He had some interesting stuff, but it was just too long.  JT said he wanted to keep it all.  Ok, good luck.

KABF hosts catching the documentary

A week ago, he reached out.  The documentary now had a name: “88.3 FM – The Voice of the People.”  It was down to 100 minutes, and darned close to finished.  He wanted to know when I was next in Little Rock to see if we could do a “sneak preview” screening for KABF hosts and friends.  What the heck, sure, that was going to be a hella-day anyway with stops in Greenville and Drew, Mississippi, but I could be there by 630 PM in Vino’s back room.

We had a good, solid crowd of thirty or more, mostly KABF hosts.  And, lo and behold, I’ll be honest, to my surprise, it was a great documentary on the station!  Good camera work.  Parts of it were actually funny, which captures the true heart of KABF.  The diversity of the programming – and its hosts – old and young, black, white and Latino, came through clearly.  Ok, it was still too long.  Some pieces were ten minutes that should have been two, like the King march.  Too many speeches without enough connection to the main themes in the women’s march and the school closings, but, hey, that’s just a matter of tightening everything down.

Props to JT Tarpley for a crazy idea and for making it happen.  I’m biased, but my verdict as a now experienced documentary veteran, is that once this is at a festival near you, or anywhere you can get your hands on it, grab a copy or a chair and enjoy.  Then, throw a couple of dollars towards Tarpley so he can get it finished and always remember to show some love to KABF and become a member and jump for your wallet during pledge drives.

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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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