Tag Archives: Hoppers

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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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Grinding out a Hollow Victory under the NLRB for Garbage Workers

8965564-largeLittle Rock   For more than twenty years, Local 100 has represented “hoppers” in New Orleans as well as other cities in south Louisiana and Texas. Hoppers, gunslingers, or whatever they might be called are the laborers at the rear end of garbage trucks, handling the business end of the enterprise, making sure the content of the filled cans gets into the “hopper” which is the large cylinder that rotates and compacts the garbage on the route. Even as the process has become more mechanical with lifting arms and special cans, many an 80-gallon piece of plastic is still heaved into the hopper to keep the routes speeding along from house to house. This is hard, sweaty, and often dangerous work.

These workers for decades have been subcontracted by municipally privatized sanitation contractors like Waste Management or Browning-Ferris or smaller companies to temporary employment agencies. Some unions and organizers along with the general public wrongly assume these workers are company employees when and if they notice them at all and believe that if they are temporary or casual, they are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, but of course they are. When we won these elections in the 1990s, we bargained the workers up from minimum wage and archaic employment practices like “Chinese overtime,” still common in the industry for such workers. It was front page news in the Wall Street Journal at the time.

After Katrina hit New Orleans 10 years ago, garbage service was provided by FEMA for a while, meaning that all the workers and contractors disappeared. When they came back under the now disgraced and jailed Mayor Ray Nagin, there were new companies and new contractors. We were able to establish that one new contractor, Milton Berry, was a successor, and we attempted to bargain a contract with them. There was a problem though and a big one. Berry had unilaterally rolled back wages, so we filed charges to recover the losses while trying to bring this outfit up to the 21st century and modern worker protections. Easier said than done, because all Berry really had going for himself was a knack for cutting corners and some lawyers who didn’t care about anything but getting their hourly rate. We got 10j injunctions. We endured appeals to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Anything to wind down the clock. Berry lost the contract for the hoppers, but the lawyers kept on.

The final order has now come out more than seven (7) years after we filed the initial charges. The NLRB ordered Berry and his wife, as owners of M & B Services to post fifteen (15) notices of their illegal activity, but no hoppers will ever see these notices because Berry no longer has a place of business in New Orleans. He has been ordered to pay $223,781.00 in back pay and $42,292 in interest through September 22nd, a figure that will keep rising until payment, from the total bill of $266,000 now. The checks supposedly have to be received by the NLRB in their offices by no later than the middle of October. No question, if you read the order, after all of these years Local 100 and the workers have a victory in hand.

Rosa Hines, Local 100’s New Orleans office director, who has handled this case throughout this period should frame the order and put it near her desk somewhere in the office. That way we and the workers will have something to remember from this struggle, because after all of this time it is unclear that any of them will ever see a dime.

The NLRB order reads this way in finding culpability:

M&B Services, Inc; Berry Service, Inc. (Berry I); Berry Services, Inc. (Berry II); Berry Transportation, LLC; Milton Berry, an Individual Charged with Personal Liability; Carolyn Berry, an Individual Charged with Personal Liability.

Milton Berry’s business address is now in a New Orleans suburb. Carolyn Berry, his wife, has a business address in Magnolia, Mississippi. Their businesses are small potatoes, but having been led down a bad road by their lawyers’ exploitation of the deadening legalistic bureaucracy of the NLRB and the playground it allows scofflaws, they are now personally on the hook for $260,000.

The next lawyer they hire will probably be a bankruptcy specialist, not a labor law exploiter. The Berry’s will have a sad tale to tell at family dinners about the evil of unions. Meanwhile the union and the workers seven years later will have something they can look at in a frame with the slim chance of ever seeing a dime of back pay and the ongoing struggle of still trying to work on wages still lower than they enjoyed a decade ago.

Maybe there is hope in the new joint employer decision of the NLRB that allow justice to be won from the primary contractor, but that’s a fight next time. For now there’s no celebration over a hard won victory this time.

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