More than a year after they expected New Orleans’ “living wage” law would give them a raise, workers who clean city buildings are suing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration for, in their view, failing to abide by the law.
United Labor Unions Local 100, which represents the 40 to 50 workers on the city's janitorial contract, filed suit Monday in Civil District Court alleging that the city owes them back pay for extending a contract with their employer without making it comply with a mandate in the law signed by Landrieu requiring them to be paid more.
“The defendants actually praised the (Living Wage Ordinance) to local, state and national stakeholders in supporting low-wage workers' rights to attain a 'living wage,' (yet) all the while same defendants were dragging their feet" on implementing the ordinance "and have violated their own law,” according to the suit, which names the city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Property Management Director George Patterson as defendants.
The case will be heard by Civil District Judge Paula Brown.
Janitors cleaning the corridors and emptying the trash bins at City Hall in recent months ha…
The Landrieu administration did not respond to a request for comment on the suit Wednesday.
The "living wage" law, sponsored by Councilman Jared Brossett, was passed in 2015. It said that starting Jan. 1, 2016, whenever new city contracts were signed or existing ones extended, they had to say that the firms being hired would pay the workers employed on those contracts at least $10.55 an hour and give them at least six paid days off a year.
However, the city has not implemented the policy for existing contracts that were extended last year on the same terms, including its agreement with ETI, the company which employs the janitorial staff at City Hall and other municipal buildings. Those workers are now paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
The city argued that such extensions were not covered by the Living Wage Ordinance. It said that adding new wage requirements to such contracts would require them to rebid, which would be a lengthy and disruptive process.
During the City Council’s discussion last fall of the 2017 budget, city officials said they were in the process of reviewing about 1,000 existing contracts to determine how to prioritize them and add pay increases for the workers.
But David Capasso, the attorney representing the workers, said there are “no gray areas” in the living wage law and “no grandfather clause for cheap labor.”
“These are the lowest-paid workers that are working with the city. The Living Wage Ordinance was specifically for them,” Capasso said. “That’s what this law was about, to make sure they don’t get left behind.”
Capasso said he’s working with workers’ groups trying to identify other city contractors that should be paying the new wage but are not. He said other suits might follow.
City Councilman Jared Brossett is stepping up his criticism of how Mayor Mitch Landrieu's ad…
Brossett, who has grilled the Landrieu administration on its handling of the ordinance, said in a statement Wednesday, “I continue to support the spirit and intent of the Living Wage Ordinance. My hope is all workers receive the dignity and respect of a living wage.”