Tag Archives: louisiana

Hurricane Lessons:  Gas Stoves, Oak Trees, Power, and Climate

New Orleans     Storms around Labor Day get my full attention.  Betsy hit hard in the fall of 1965 right after school began and took more than a week to get everything back in gear.  Katrina in 2005 hit at the end of August and decimated the city of New Orleans in what is now an oft-told tale still looking for a happy ending, fifteen years later.  Now in 2020, the year of the worst pandemic in one-hundred years and the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have now had five, yes, count them, five, storms hit Louisiana.  Lake Charles in the western part of the state caught a double whammy of terrible proportion.   Other storms with other names had glanced New Orleans with more bark than bite as kind of nothing-burgers.

Then here comes Zeta, so far down the hurricane chain that even the Greek alphabet is exhausted by the horror of this season.  This one smacked us around a bit, as a category 2.  When I left work at 5pm thinking I should buckle down a couple of more shutters at the house, I was surprised rolling down Elysian Fields from the lake towards the river to see, gulp, I was pretty much the last one on the road, and the wind was picking up.  After some stops and starts, power went off in our riverside neighborhood by 7pm, and now thirteen hours later as I write this, it’s still out there and in about one-third of the city.  Cox Cable, the dominant internet provider, is ghosting now.  There’s no power in our offices.  The radio station is off the air.  It’s going to be that kind of day.

I wrote a book, The Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster, but in weathering Zeta, there are a few lessons I left out, that I’ll mention now.

  • Gas stoves are the best! When electricity goes kaput for hours or perhaps days and weeks, you can still eat.  This morning I was able to eat my oatmeal and drink my coffee, thanks to a gas stove.  My family had one in Betsy as well when power was down for over a week, as I recall.
  • Stately old oak trees are beautiful and help define the city, but in a storm, they are nothing but dangerous. Weakened branches are every everywhere, including the yard in front of our organizing center.  Worse, I can see a very large branch, dangling over the sidewalk by a fiber.  Walkers and gawkers will be watching their feet not to trip on fallen timber, but they need to keep one eye to the sky for what is ready to fall.
  • Why haven’t the city and Entergy, the power company, come to grips with the need to bury the power lines after all of these hurricanes? Our organizing & retreat center is in a neighborhood developed by the Orleans Levee Board in the mid-1960s, and the lines are buried, so, voila, I drove five miles in the dark in the predawn to now sit by shining lights.

Oh, and one more thing.  This climate change thing is real!


Louisiana Case Study of Delivery App Scams

New Orleans        A funny thing happened to platform capitalism and its predatory business model in Louisiana of all places making the experience there a case in point.  Being Louisiana, the fact that somehow booze triggered the revelation almost makes the story too good to be true.

Once upon a time, just minutes ago it seems, there was a Lake Charles, Louisiana based company making waves in the app-delivery space called Waitr.  One of their salespeople, a regular customer at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, or so he claimed, hounded us for a meeting as the company first tried to sign up restaurants in the New Orleans area.  Waitr argued it was different.  It would charge a flat fee for a delivery, five bucks.  It would prevent restaurants from charging extra for products to be delivered.  They would pay minimum wage and the workers would be their own employees.  We didn’t bite, but about 800 locations in metropolitan New Orleans did, at least according to the company.

Louisiana being Louisiana, it helps to be homegrown and being homegrown means that Waitr understood that politics was part of the grease in making its delivery system work, especially if they could corner a part of the market.  The legislature had debated allowing liquor deliveries in a recent session.  This isn’t as unusual in a state (and city) that allows drive-in window daiquiri sales and allows open containers everywhere.  The bill failed, so they put together a committee to study it for the next session, and this time Waitr had a seat at the table.  With an eye to leveling its own playing field, Waitr got them to require that any delivery service classified the workers as employees, as they did then, not as independent contractors.  The state rep who carried the bill described that requirement as “the linchpin” in the passage of the bill.  This also of course blocked Uber, Instacart and other third-party app companies from hauling booze to the thirsty by ripping off their workers.

In a stunning revelation covered in The Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate, the major regional grocery chain, Rouses, “is expanding into the delivery market but isn’t able to make a profit under the current alcohol delivery laws, which require using hourly wage employees.”  In other words, if the company has to at least guarantee a minimum wage, a measly $7.25 in Louisiana per hour, it doesn’t work.  For the business model to work, there has to be a worker rip-off.

Meanwhile Waitr, the company whose fingerprints were all over the law, is not one of the 50 companies licensed to make deliveries.   The company went public and then was bought out.  All 2300 employees were laid off and told to reapply as independent contractors.  They now charge restaurants 15 to 25% as a service fee as well as for any credit card transaction, but still bar the restaurant from charging separate prices for delivery items, as they do routinely in New York City.

The precarious and predatory nature of app-based delivery services and their enablers seems beyond debate.