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.
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.