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Prisoners Replace New Orleans Sanitation Workers Striking for Coronavirus Hazard Pay

Waste disposal workers, called “hoppers,” of Orleans Parish went on strike May 5, 2020, demanding the city of New Orleans provide them with better personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard pay due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to Pay Day Report. People Ready, contracted through Metro Disposal to provide workers, fired the strikers and replaced them with prison laborers from a nearby work-release center in Livingston Parish.

Striking sanitation workers continued to protest outside Metro Service Group’s New Orleans East headquarters, wearing signs that read “I AM A MAN.”

Workers demanded that the company have trucks repaired, provide proper PPE daily (such as masks and gloves), sick leave during the pandemic, hazard pay of $150 a week and a pay increase from $10.25 per hour to $15 per hour. The company has a $10.7 million annual contract to collect trash in Orleans Parish north of Interstate 10.

Sanitation worker Jerry Simon stated that People Ready staffing services fired the entire crew after they went on strike. They then contracted with Lock5, LLC to provide prison workers at a rate of $9.25 per hour. Lock5 receives 64% of those wages for expenses. Prisoners end up retaining about $1.33 per hour for their labor.

Strike leader Gregory Woods said, “They are really trying to use those dudes to do our job, and they’re paying them way less than they were paying us. They are trying to show the world that people will still do our job without giving us the proper protective equipment.”

Orleans Parish sanitation workers do not have a collective bargaining agreement. They have tried to meet with the city unsuccessfully to discuss their safety concerns. Simon said, “We feel like we are putting our health at risk. Every time we go out there we could catch the virus.”

Hootie Lockhart, manager of Lock5, said he was not aware of the strike. He said when he found out about it, he took his workers off the job. “We won’t be back. Not as long as there’s a labor issue,” he said.

People Ready stated that the workers were never fired and would be welcome back at any time. The strikers had yet to come to an agreement to resolve the situation.

The city’s contract mandates that employees receive $10.25 per hour. Prisoners who performed the services will have their pay adjusted accordingly.