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Outrage Rises as New Orleans Replaces Striking Garbage Workers With Prison Labor Equal to “Modern Day Slavery”

photo by Tony Webster

Last week, according to PayDay Report and Louisiana local news, dozens of garbage workers employed by the temp service People Ready went on strike demanding proper safety equipment. The workers, who make only $10.25 an hour are also demanding hazard pay and paid sick leave. 

Many have responded in outrage about the practice, equating it with modern day slavery considering the prisoners pay rate and working conditions.

The practice is legal, even constitutional, as famously pointed out by Kanye West a couple years back. The 13th ammendment, which was ratified in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime for which someone had been convicted.

Prison work in Louisiana dates back to before the end of the Civil War, when the state built its first penitentiary, located in Baton Rouge, in 1837 and handed management over to lessees who then profited off the forced labor. Louisiana took control of the Angola plantation in 1901, housing prisoners in old slave quarters and forcing them to work in the existing cotton fields. As recently as 1979, prisoners at Angola were referred to as “hands,” not unlike the way slave masters referred to slaves.

Local residents, union workers, hospitality workers and health care professionals — all impacted by the coronavirus — have voiced support and concern for the sanitation workers. The workers said they will keep fighting until they get the pay and protection they need.

“I really don’t like it,” Strike Leade Gregory Woods said. “They are really trying to use those dudes to do our job, and they 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,” Woods said. “All of it is a hustle for them, a scam for them. They saving money that’s all they are doing – that’s all it is”. 

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