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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Bullying Low-and-Moderate Income Homeowners with Paperwork and Fines

New Orleans      I thought of an article I had torn out of the New York Times and stuck into my bag to read more closely on my quick trip to Katmandu recently, when I got a weird email on the same trip.  The Historic Districts Landmarks Commission (HDLC) in New Orleans had sent us a bizarre missive, labeled as a Demolition notice, or more accurately, a threat to demolish, for the ACORN Global Enterprise property on Ponce de Leon where we operated the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse social enterprise.  Admittedly, they caught my attention, and, sure enough, many of our properties have now found themselves in Historic Districts where we can potentially be subjected to such bullying.

We knew of no complaints.  There had been no HDLC inspection.  What was the issue?  Finally, reading the thing, it was just a bullying threat because they had somehow observed that several weatherboards needed to be fixed.  This is New Orleans and a tropical climate and a large two-story frame house.  There are always going to be weatherboards that need to be tightened and fixed.  It is a commonplace matter of no great consequence that will cost a couple of hundred to repair at most, so what was the beef?  The HDLC notice seemed to want us to come in and get a permit to do the work.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  You only need a permit from HDLC if you are altering a property in some material way in an historic district.  No permit is needed for routine repairs that maintain existing conditions.  This whole thing on paper seems to add up to little more than municipally sanctioned harassment and a revenue scam for a small agency.  The actions of HDLC are the real nuisance here.  Does one waste the time messing with them or just fix the couple of weatherboards and let it ride?

The story in the Times demonstrated how harrowing – and expensive – such bullying and nuisances can become.  The article focused on the spiraling Catch-22 homeowners in Queens and elsewhere in New York City can face over simple problems like this in their homes.  The NYC Building Department might issue a citation for something, but confused homeowners often uncertain how to respond, delaying, or not understanding the procedure find themselves facing a series of fines for lateness that multiply and snowball.  As the Times reports:

 “Before filing a certification, homeowners must have the condition fixed, which often begins with paying for a permit.  But before they can get the permit, they must pay additional civil penalties, incurred alongside the fines for construction issues.  Until the civil penalties are paid, owners will receive one fine after another for failing to comply.”

Understand this clearly, this is often after the problem was fixed and repaired, eliminating any safety concern or in the case of the niggling HDLC in New Orleans, aesthetic issue was addressed.

The Times pictured one house where three violations had incurred $495,800 in fines!  What in the world is the purpose of that?  Under what rationale of public policy can this level of bullying and predation by public bodies be excused?

I can think of none, and I believe there is none.

***

Please enjoy Dark Night Of The Soul by Van Morrison.

Thanks to KABF.

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