At a City Council meeting on June 22, the Council passed the long-awaited right to collective bargaining ordinance for New Orleans City workers. The measure protects workers’ right to unionize, including protecting the right for workers to discuss the union and unionizing on the clock. The ordinance is explicitly supportive of the union, recognizes the role that unions have in empowering workers, and also acknowledges the failure of the City to bargain in good faith with the City’s union. While the beleaguered National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects U.S. workers’ right to organize, the NLRA does not cover government workers. Only about 10% of Americans belong to a union, despite widespread support for labor unions; and in Louisiana (a right-to-work state, which prohibits mandatory union dues, thus weakening unions) that number hovers around 4%. The following are in-person comments from the June 22 meeting.
Among the many things that this ordinance does, it clarifies the rights that we already have, and allows us a right to improve our workplaces. And hopefully, the efficiency of our City services. It states unequivocally that we have the right to talk to our coworkers about union membership and actions without fear of retaliation, and that we have the right to communicate with union reps while at the workplace. It puts to rest the idea that organizing is a shady or secret work. This will help build a work culture that organized workers are invested workers.1Emily S.
I work at the Lowe’s on Elysian Fields. I’m a union organizer there, and I wanted to speak in support of all the folks here, so that they, unlike me, don’t have to deal with illegal union busting. I want them to have the right to collective bargaining and to be able to organize the way they should be able to. And the folks who work in our departments of Public Works, who work in sanitation, and libraries, and schools, and all the other vital parts of our city shouldn’t have to deal with [union-busting], they deserve to be paid fairly for their hard work.2Felix A.
I started in New Orleans as an artist and I entered the film industry, and being part of a union completely changed my life. And now I’m a union rep. I’m here with members of the AFL-CIO today to support this ordinance. What do we all want in a job? We want to have a good relationship with our employer and we want job security, right? The people who work for the city of New Orleans kept our city running through hurricanes, through tornadoes, through fires, pandemics, and political strife. We depend on them so much. And today, they’re depending on us for something. New Orleans City workers deserve the right to organize free of interference, the ability to be recognized as a bargaining unit, and the opportunity to negotiate a fair contract.3Simonette B.
It took at least two and a half years for the mayor to recognize any union for City employees. We are very happy that this right-to-organize ordinance establishes an enforceable process for unionization and a timeline for the Council and mayor to recognize unionization efforts. The inclusion of the labor relations advisor to oversee and mediate terms under this ordinance makes this legislation with teeth. In a city with wide and growing racial wealth disparities, codifying public sector union rights is something every New Orleanian should want.4Lee A.
I am here on behalf of the nurses at Tulane Medical Center and National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union with over 225,000 members… Nurses know that it is our city EMT workers who are bringing patients to us on their worst days. EMT workers deserve dignified working conditions so they can continue their services that they do. We know that all of New Orleans benefits when the workers who make the city run have a seat at the table.5Lindgren C.
To follow up on this issue, you can email your City councilmembers. To submit a public comment, follow instructions at council.nola.gov. Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.
illustration by Sadie Wiese