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Weeks-Old Garbage Is Stinking Up New Orleans. Residents Had A Trash Parade In Protest

Bags of garbage pile up on a New Orleans street on Friday. Trash collection delays have left some residents outraged at the city's contractors.
Bags of garbage pile up on a New Orleans street on Friday. Trash collection delays have left some residents outraged at the city's contractors.

New Orleans often celebrates with parades: Mardi Gras to honor the city's storied culture, funeral parades to celebrate a well-lived life, and now, a garbage parade to do the opposite of celebration — to protest.

Over three weeks after Hurricane Ida devastated parts of Louisiana, residents in New Orleans are still living alongside piles of household trash due to delayed trash collection pickups. The city's mayor says the situation has reached the point of a crisis.

Some residents agree and found a very New Orleans way to make their outrage known: they held a "Trash Parade," dressed in trash fashion, and marched carrying protest signs.

WWNO's Ryan Nelsen was at the protest, which went ahead despite a rainstorm. Here's what he saw.

Costumes made of trash bags, water bottles and even trashcans themselves bobbed to City Hall's doorstep.

NPR member station WWNO reports some of the trash waiting to be picked up includes spoiled food after refrigerators lost power for days following the storm. Temperatures in the city hit the mid-80s last weekend, and there are reports the city has taken on a pungent smell from the trash.

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Are city officials holding anyone accountable?

The issue is spilling into the legislature. The City Council called a meeting to discuss the collection problem. In New Orleans, one of three companies responsible for trash collection is Metro Service Group.

Their CEO Jimmie Woods spoke at the meeting Aug. 17, telling lawmakers and residents he didn't believe there were residents who hadn't had their trash picked up after 24 days.

Wood began to respond but was interrupted by Eraina Jessie, a 7th ward resident. "I'm sorry, but he's lying," she said.

Jessie says her street was skipped by trash collectors.

You can watch the full exchange below.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the city will be implementing a task force to pull city workers away from jobs like mowing grass and fixing roads to put them on collecting the trash.

The council will meet again on Sept. 21 to continue to discuss what to do about the delays. City Council member Kristin Palmer says the city has received more than 9,000 calls about the trash problems.

Why is trash collection so delayed?

Industries across America are short-staffed, and it isn't only due to hundreds of thousands of deaths from the pandemic: Many Americans say they're done working difficult jobs for little pay and substandard benefits.

Metro Service Group acknowledges customers are complaining of trash piling up and cites staffing problems as the root cause. The company says it's increasing starting pay and incentivizing employees to get vaccinated, in attempts to boost hiring and prevent absenteeism.

Metro Service Group was behind on collections well before Ida hit. Workers for the agency went on strike in May 2020, calling for a raise from around $10 to $15 per hour and weekly hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike abruptly ended in September, with some workers returning to work and some leaving for better paying jobs.

Southerly spoke to two workers in New Orleans who returned to Metro Service Group after the strike. They say one year later, conditions haven't significantly improved.

For more on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, follow along with WWNO's coverage.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition Live Blog.

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