What Happens When a Growing Black Business is in the Crosshairs of a National Union

By Jeff Thomas

Brothers Jimmie and Glenn Woods started Metro Disposal (a/k/a Metro Service Group, Inc.) with vision, grit and determination. “It was just us. We had an old truck and we handmade our containers ourselves,” said Jimmie as he closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and held his head back.  “Around 8 at night I would drive and Glenn would be the hopper, and we would pick up the trash that had accumulated that day.”

The Original Metro Disposal Truck

“And the next morning we would put on a shirt and tie and knock on doors to get more customers,” added Glenn.  “But I was the wheel man for the containers.  If one of them broke, I would jack it up and fix it right there on the spot.” 

“One day our truck broke down and I was under it laying in a rancid pool of maggots and feces infested water,” said Jimmie as the brothers teased about who worked the hardest.  “You were good at anticipating the tool I would need next though.” 

Metro has grown significantly over the last 38 years into a multi-state operation that is much more than two men and a truck. In New Orleans, Metro is one of the two African-American owned companies responsible for collecting the trash across our city. The two brothers parlayed their quick wardrobe changes and penchant to work long hard hours into being one of the largest companies in New Orleans.  They now operate in 9 states and provide residential, commercial, industrial, construction and consulting services.

As the brothers joyfully reminisced inside their office, their happy mood switched to angst about the small crowd of protestors just outside the fence of their sprawling New Orleans East complex. 

Across the country during this COVID-19 pandemic, union organizing has gained steam and momentum. Businesses are being identified by their size, scope and industry and organizers are contacting their employees and helping them gain better pay and protection during these life-threating work conditions.  Our front-line workers deserve a living wage and proper protection. 

Businesses are facing intense pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic and must adjust on the fly.  Multiple unforeseen forces are simultaneously attempting to leverage business owners, while they struggle to even make a profit as their markets shrink or disappear.  Additionally, workers who are fortunate enough to earn a living see their value as significantly higher and press for higher paychecks.

Smart business owners are balancing workers’ needs and rights within their own strained balance sheets and providing the resources we all desperately need during this pandemic.  The best companies are transforming their business models—think  Twitter allowing workers to permanently work from home.  Workers will continue to organize.  And this national resurgence in union organizing gives workers more ability to pressure companies. 

Sitting inside their offices, the Woods brothers see this local attack through a different lens.  The brothers  not only currently pay, but have always paid a living wage, and they have been out in front of all the trendy hiring concepts that promulgate the latest social consciousness.  

“We are the original second chance givers.  We have always hired and paid a good salary to men who nobody else would even look at!  Men who work with us can afford a good life in New Orleans.”  “Our core beliefs are paying our people a living wage,” said Jimmie.  “We always have,” echoed Glenn. 

The men who Metro have hired are considered by some as castaways.  Criminal records searches are used by 93% of employers that conduct pre-hiring screening, according to Sterling Talent Solutions in 2017.  70 million Americans have a criminal record, and often can’t find work because of it.  The Woods’ brothers hiring practices get pass that discrimination and help formerly incarcerated persons get back on their feet.  They routinely hire people who otherwise would not have a chance at earning a living wage and are proud of their support of the First 72+ program—a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals to integrate back into society in a meaningful way.

LOCAL ORGANIZING

Now, suddenly every morning young white liberals intermingle with the protestors, helping them to make signs, speak to the media and recruit others.  Union organizers use laptops and smartphones to collect data from the group of largely African American men who normally start their shifts in the wee hours of the morning.  These young organizers circulate information about unions and workers’ rights to the group of hoppers who normally assemble inside the gate. Hoppers are now demanding higher wages, PPE and safe working conditions.

The Original Orange Metro Truck After Jimmie & Glenn Painted It

The Woods brothers are most discouraged by the fake news being pushed by these organizers.  Having been in the business for nearly 40 years, they have seen union organizers before.  In fact, several years ago Metro workers voted overwhelmingly not to unionize; but now organizers are using the COVID-19 crisis to get another opportunity.  Metro insists that it has treated all of their employees and subcontracted hoppers with the respect and dignity they deserve.  They maintain that they pay $16.75 per hour per hopper to PeopleReady, the direct employer of the hoppers; that they have always had and made PPE available, and that their trucks are amongst the best maintained in the industry.

PAY DISPUTE

PeopleReady, the direct employer of the protesting hoppers, is a part of TrueBlue, Inc., a global workforce solutions leader connecting clients with over 840,000 associates across 70 countries. They recruit, hire and directly pay the hoppers.  The PeopleReady profit per hour per employee is the difference between the living wage that Metro pays for the hoppers as compared to the multi-national company whose global focus is on their own profit.  PeopleReady confirms that it currently pays the hoppers at least $11.19 per hour, which is the current Living Wage under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.

Mask, Gloves, and Other PPE on hand at Metro

PPE

Metro has always, not only had enough PPE for their employees and sub-contractors, but have even loaned supplies to other companies that were expecting delayed deliveries.  They are committed to doing everything they can to protect the citizens of the city and every person associated with Metro, whether direct employees or indirect employees.  The Woods brothers live in New Orleans and shiver at the thought of them being a source of community spread. Back in February, they sourced enough PPE for each team member and plan to continue to provide them protective gear as long as there is a need.  In fact, they have invoices that prove this point.

Even though PeopleReady is responsible for providing all protective gear to the hoppers, Metro has stocked enough for the hoppers.  Metro has communicated in no uncertain terms to PeopleReady that it should properly protect the workers.  Viewing themselves as a front-line and an essential service, Woods says, “Metro will continue to lead the way in ensuring everybody in New Orleans is safe.” In fact, Metro is researching several products that can be sprayed on cans and give them long term resistance to germs, bacteria and viruses.  Though not contractually required, Metro has always been an innovative company that protects our community.

PRISON LABOR

The union claimed that Metro used prisoners from Livingston Parish to collect the trash in New Orleans.  Metro does not refute this, but clarifies that when the hoppers decided not to work on May 5th, and stated that no truck would move and no trash would be collected in the City on that date, it had to act quickly to protect the citizens of New Orleans from the  environmental effects waste build-up, along with honoring its contractual obligations to the City.  During this pandemic, more people are home and creating and putting out more trash than normal, and Metro is committed to collecting the trash.

 Faced with a reduced workforce, Metro reached out to industry competitors. None could help because they are also collecting more trash than normal.  In a jam, the brothers took drastic measures. Referred to Livingston Parish by someone in the business, Metro hired trustees, who are at the end of their confinement, and are eligible to work. And New Orleans remains safe and clean.  They only worked for 4 days. Metro paid a living wage to every man who worked during that 4-day period.  Metro’s quick decision protected the people of New Orleans and helped some men who needed and were eligible to work.

INVESTMENT

Compressed Natural Gas Plant Converts Gas for Trucks

The company has invested over $3 million dollars in their fleet of trucks, and in constructing a Compressed Natural Gas plant.  If you used to listen for the garbage man and run out in your PJ’s to pull out the can, you might be out of luck if Metro services your neighborhood.  They use Compressed Natural Gas trucks.  The trucks are super quiet, virtually eliminating noise and air pollution, but making last minute can pullers job tough. 

In their sprawling NOLA East complex,  Metro employs certified mechanics, who in addition to servicing the trucks replace their own tires and paint the trucks themselves.  Environmentally conscious and focused on cleanliness, Metro removes the trash in late-model, well-maintained, quiet trucks.  They operate the mechanic shop 24-hours a day to keep clean running compressed natural gas-powered vehicles available.

Truck Being Repaired at Metro

Union organizers repeatedly question hoppers about problems.  One day one hose broke on one truck.  Suddenly a list of demands included stopping hydraulic fluid from pouring onto hoppers.  The truck was serviced the same day and back on the road with a newly repaired hose that did not leak. Jimmie and Glenn pride themselves on keeping their vehicles in tip top shape.

Municipalities like to contract local because their partners are truly invested in the community.  Lifelong residents of the greater New Orleans area, Jimmie and Glenn are well known contributors to important causes that benefit us all.  Churches and community groups have leaned on the businessmen over the years, so much that they had to pull back and are forming a philanthropic nonprofit that will help raise funds and be responsible for aid distribution going forward. 

Metro is a family-owned business that is the American success story. Metro is an African- American owned business that is growing.  Metro hires African-American men, many who would have no other work opportunity, and pays them a living wage.  The company is run by native New Orleanians who live in the city.  Their children attend local schools.  They go to local churches and shop in local stores.  They are here to protect and serve our community.

Jimmie and Glenn Woods Stand in Front of a CNG Truck in the Repair Shop

But during these strange COVID-19 times, they are being branded as a something else.  A national movement to increase union membership is active and real in New Orleans.  Sometimes union organizers use local people as their pawns.  Instead of speaking themselves, local union organizers got three local people to be their spokesmen.  Sadly, they made false claims.  Most hoppers have returned to work through PeopleReady, and Metro has welcomed them back. 

Let’s protect workers’ rights.  Unionize when necessary.  But we should not smear the good names of a local family that runs a great business and treats its people the way they would like to be treated themselves.

Strong unions are good for America.  They protect our workers and safeguard working conditions and pay.  Our economy is stronger when our workers have enough money to live productive lives.  But national unions hurt themselves and create mistrust when they make false claims and attempt to smear the good name of a  local community asset like Metro Disposal.  During COVID-19, unions are growing.  Workers’ rights are important.  We need to do everything we can to support our people.  And we need strong companies from our communities who hire our people and treat them right

One thought on “Metro Disposal Labor Pains”
  1. Why not hire direct and pay the workers the amount paying a third party. If they are such good businessmen, create an HR and hire directly. $11 is not $15 an hour. The job is not an easy job. People are nasty and I have seen trash days. Those guys should get the entire $15 not $11 and the 3rd party collecting such a large fee to do a job Metro can do in house. This community supported Metro when contracts were threatened and to see how the company operates is disappointing. I see why the unions try to help. I’m with the workers and they deserve at least $15 an hour not $11. Do the right thing. Can you survive on $11 an hour Metro?

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Whenever we finally have the next election in Louisiana, there will be constitutional amendments on the ballot.  Didn’t know?  Aware but not sure of the details?  We got you.  Read on for a concise and easy to understand breakdown of the 4 amendments you will see.

Amendment 1

Authorizes streamlined electronic filing, remittance, and collection of sales and use tax 

 “Do you support an amendment to authorize the legislature to provide for the streamlined electronic filing, electronic remittance, and the collection of sales and use taxes levied within the state by the State and Local Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Commission and to provide for the funding, duties, and responsibilities of the commission?”

YES VOTE  Creates a new statewide tax commission that would collect all sales taxes handle all electronic tax filings and create new policy for all state and local sales taxes. The appointed commission would replace all current tax commissions and take away any and all local control of sales tax collections.

NO VOTE Leaves things as they currently are. 

Shallow Dive into the Issues

Most states have a central collection agency that passes money back to the local municipalities.  Big businesses would view the state more favorably.  The current system has every parish and even cities in parishes collecting their own taxes. This is unfair complex and oppressive. Supreme court rulings probably make the system unconstitutional.  But taking away local control means outsiders control not only collection but policies, rules and regulations. 

Amendment 2

Lowers maximum allowed rate of income tax and allows providing a deduction for federal income taxes

 “Do you support an amendment to lower the maximum allowable rate of individual income tax and to authorize the legislature to provide by law for a deduction for federal income taxes paid?”

YES VOTE Reforms and updates Louisiana’s tax code

NO VOTE Maintains Louisiana’s current tax code that dates to 2003.

Shallow Dive into the Issues

The current system is at odds with the federal tax system.  When federal taxes get lowered, then individual Louisiana state taxes are actually increased.  And when federal taxes are raised, then individual Louisiana state taxes are reduced but state revenue is also reduced.  If you are interested in tax reform for Louisiana then a vote yes will implement a cascade of tax reform.

Amendment 3

Allows certain levee districts to levy an annual tax for certain purposes

 “Do you support an amendment to allow levee districts created after January 1, 2006, and before October 9, 2021, whose electors approve the amendment to levy an annual tax not to exceed five mills for the purpose of constructing and maintaining levees, levee drainage, flood protection, and hurricane flood protection?”  

YES VOTE Allows  5 levee districts created after 2006 to raise property taxes without a voter approval.

NO VOTE Requires the 5 Levee districts to get voter approval before raising taxes

Shallow Dive into the Issues

Older districts can raise taxes by 3 mils without voter approval.  But these 5

  • Chenier Plain Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority (Calcasieu, Cameron, and Vermilion Parishes)
  • Iberia Parish Levee, Hurricane and Conservation District (Iberia Parish)  
  • Squirrel Run Levee and Drainage District (Iberia Parish)  
  •  St. Tammany Levee, Drainage and Conservation District (St. Tammany)
  •  Tangipahoa Levee District (Tangipahoa Parish)

Must get voter approval.  The whole state votes. The districts and the state must approve the change for it to go into effect.

Amendment 4

Increases amount of allowed reduction to certain dedicated funds when a budget deficit is projected

“Do you support an amendment to increase the amount of allowable deficit reductions to statutory dedications and constitutionally protected funds from five percent to ten percent?

YES VOTE Lets the governor transfer more dedicated funds to fix a budget deficit.

NO VOTE Keeps the current 5% cap on use of dedicated funds

Shallow Dive into the Issues

The state’s budget must be balanced. When there is a deficit, the governor can take raid dedicated funds to the tune of 5%.  This change increases that to 10%.   

Now you know! #Geaux Vote

The NFL is about a 1/4 of the way through the season. The Saints have battled through displacement, injuries, inconsistency, and an adjustment period. Here’s a statistically based assessment of where they stand.

Offense:

The offense has been terrible this year, one of the worst of Sean Payton’s career. They’re down in almost every statistical category – points per game, total yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game. 5 games into the season, the offense has just struggled to move the ball, especially through the air.

At quarterback, Jameis Winston is only completing 60% of his passes for 178 yards a game. That’s near the bottom of the league statistically. His overall QB rating is skewed by the fact that he has 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. But 4 of those came in one game where he threw goal line touchdowns after the Saints ran the ball down the field. 4 others have come on big plays. Simply put, the Saints have had few sustained drives through the air. In a quarterback driven league, there’s no way you can consider yourself a SuperBowl contender with stats like that.

Part of it can be chalked up to the Saints missing both starting wide receivers. And part of it can be chalked up to Winston just not reading the coverages, or bad play calling on Sean Payton’s part. Whatever the reason, the Saints have got to get the passing game together in order to make the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year.

Saints All Pro Receiver Michael Thomas

Reason to be optimistic: Michael Thomas is coming back. There’s no getting around it. The Saints’ season hinges on Michael Thomas. On paper, he’s not only the best player on the team, but he’s one of the best in the league. The last time we saw a healthy Can’t Guard Mike he was the 2019 Offensive Player of The Year, leading the league in yards and receptions. That year he caught 80% of the balls thrown to him for an average of 9 receptions and a 107 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Jameis Winston barely threw for over 107 yards in each of the first 3 games this season.

Thomas’ presence should open up the offense. With less attention thrown his way, Marquez Calloway should shine as a 2nd option. Alvin Kamara should see more favorable matches coming out the backfield. And in pressure situations, Thomas should serve as a security blanket for Winston when no one else is open or he has trouble reading coverages down the field.

Reason to be concerned: Who knows which Michael Thomas will return. His consistency on the field has been matched by his inconsistency off of it. The last 2 years, his tweets have risen to Antonio Brown levels. Last season, he was suspended for fighting. And this year, he stubbornly waited until training camp neared to have ankle surgery, which is why he’s not on the field now.

Defense:

The defense has been carrying the team. And if you had to pick a MVP so far, it would have to be defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Since 2017 all Allen has done is scheme up the best defense the Saints have had since the Dome Patrol.

Reason to be optimistic: The defense is actually slightly better this year. They’re only giving up 18 points per game, 3 points less than the 21 they gave up last year. They’re also only allowing 79 yards rushing. That’s down from 93 last year. And despite going up against 3 of the best running backs in the league – Aaron Jones of the Packers, Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers, and Saquon Barkley of the Giants, they have yet to give up 100 yards to a single back.

This means that opposing offenses have been forced to be one dimensional. And even with teams resorting to throwing the ball more, the Saints D hasn’t been giving up big plays down the field consistently. They also rank 3rd in creating turnovers, up a spot from last year.

Reason to be concerned: They’re not sacking the quarterback. The Saints rank 29th in sacks so for this year. Last year they were 8th. They loss an elite pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson. And no one has stepped up to replace him. Cameron Jordan is in year 2 of a late career slide. Marcus Davenport is inconsistent when he does manage to stay on the field. Carl Granderson and Tanoh Kpassagnon have shown flashes. But this lack of a pass rush is partly why the Saints failed to close out the Giants game. This may become a big problem when they step up in QB class later in the season.

Special Teams:

Punter – Blake Gillikin has made us forget all about Thomas Morrestead.

Kicker – absolute disaster. The Saints are now on their 3rd kicker – 5 games into the season.

Reason to be optimistic: Wil Lutz will eventually come back.

Tidbits:

*  Alvin Kamara is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, down from 5.0 last year, but he’s a much better runner now.

*  Malcolm Jenkins is actually playing good football. He’s projected to finish with 86 solo tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, and 10 tackles for a loss.

*  11/14 – 12/2. @ Tennessee, @ Philly, then home against the Bills, and Cowboys. Those 4 weeks will tell you all you need to know about this team.

Prediction:

This team most likely has a ceiling of 11-6. But they’re a disgruntled Michael Thomas or an injury away from being 9-8 or 8-9. In the meantime, sharpen your teeth. Because this should turn out to be a nail biter of a season.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

What you learned to do isn’t working. 6 ways to begin to turn your life around.

KEY POINTS

  • We often struggle because our old coping styles no longer work.
  • Knowing your old dysfunctional patterns helps you know how to begin to run your life better.
  • Discover what you can’t do and experiment with acting differently.

Life can deliver its share of troubles and we step up and handle them as best we can. But, for some, their struggles seem never to end. While they, too, are doing their best, what often fuels their difficulties is how they are running their lives. They seem to repeatedly fall into the same potholes, replicate the same dysfunctional patterns, and react to problems in old ways that no longer work.

If this seems to be true for you, maybe it’s time to step back, stop doing what isn’t working, and begin replacing this outdated psychological software with upgraded versions. Here are some of the most common potholes and patterns to stop alongside their new-and-improved replacements. See which resonate most with you:

Stop being a victim

You’re upset because your partner always brings up that incident at Christmas that he knows makes you angry. You’re tired all the time because you’re always going a hundred miles an hour juggling work, kids’ demands, and everyday life. The core problem here is that you see yourself as a victim of others and their reactions, a victim of the life that you have created.

What to start doing: Yes, you can’t control your partner; you feel trapped in a lifestyle that drains you. But most of all you’re not taking responsibility—for your emotions and your reactions, for the choices you make even when you feel like you are not making choices.

Stop being emotionally driven

Being emotionally driven easily overlaps with feeling like a victim. What we’re talking about here is you running your everyday life based on how you feel. You’re tired, so you don’t mow the lawn or do your taxes; you’re overwhelmed about the new project at work, so put off tackling it; it’s already 2:00 pm, the day is shot, and so you mentally kick back and coast—you’ll tackle it tomorrow.

Folks who have high anxiety or who have AD/HD are often emotionally driven: They do what they do based on how they feel. The problem with this is that you understandably avoid what you don’t want to do, what is uncomfortable, and don’t follow through when the going gets tough.

What to start doing: The underlying problem is that your emotional brain is driving your life rather than your rational brain. It’s time to stop your rational brain from being a passenger and to allow it to become the driver: time to learn to act despite how you feel; time to develop some perseverance, some discipline so your feelings aren’t constantly derailing you from success.

Stop being passive

It’s okay; that’s fine; no problem; whatever. If you find yourself saying these often, you probably get kudos for being laid back and accommodating, and as an extra bonus, you avoid a lot of conflict and confrontation. But it comes at a cost: by going along and essentially letting others make choices for you, you are living the life of a child rather than an adult who shapes his life by making his own decisions. Periodically, you may find yourself feeling resentful; you may flare up and be self-destructive. Rather than living a life that reflects your unique purpose, the moral of your life is to not make waves, not get into trouble.

What to start doing: While those who are emotionally driven pay too much attention to their emotions, those who are passive tend to not pay enough attention to them. If you feel like it’s time to stop being passive, you have two skills to develop: One is listening to your gut, paying attention to what you don’t like, don’t want to; two is doing something with it.

Speak up, be assertive, tell others how you feel and think. Even if it takes three days to figure out how you feel, that’s fine; it’s okay to take baby steps. All you have to do is act. Not perfectly, not because you expect some magical outcome, not because it will make someone else happy. Simply speak up and act rather than leaning back and doing nothing.

Stop being a martyr

You volunteer for every committee; you’re always doing for others. That’s fine if that is part of your values, your vision of a good life. But all too often, it’s about anxiety, walking on eggshells. While the story you tell yourself is that you are just being a good person, you’re being over-responsible and being good so others like you, to avoid the conflict that may come from saying no. You can tell when you are losing control of your life when you get burned out, or, like those who are passive, you periodically feel resentful that others aren’t appreciating what you’re doing or are not pulling their weight. If this happens to you, your life is out of balance; you’re being a martyr.

What to start doing: Like the others, realize and acknowledge when this is happening. Next, do what you struggle to do. Keep your hand down when they call for volunteers; learn to say no. Change your expectations about what you expect from others in return. Use your burnout as a wake-up call to tell you that you are not living your life.

Stop settling

The vacation your partner planned was “okay.” The salary increase wasn’t what you expected but “understandable.” Good for you for not overreacting and being critical. But…if you are doing this a lot, if your life is an endless series of compromises and watered-down experiences, if you are always settling, eventually it’s going to back up on you. Yes, it is good enough, but like that poor woman who in old age regretted eating too many beans and not enough ice cream, do you too need to learn to slow down on the beans and try going for more ice cream?

What to start doing: Speak up and try not to rationalize that what you get is good enough, or that it’s probably what you should only expect. You deserve more than you think; you can get more than you believe you can. And you have to believe it and try living it to find out.

Stop cutting and running

The relationship isn’t working out—you ghost him. Your supervisor is awful, and you quit. Your mother makes some nasty comments about your partner, and you decide you’re done and never want to talk to her again.

This is about coping with hurtful situations by cutting them off—the situation, the pain, the person. The problem here is your anxiety and your coping style works so you keep doing it. But the downside is that your life becomes a series of emotional cutoffs and unresolved problems; the hurt isn’t ever really resolved. You never learn the lessons that life can teach you. You stay the victim; your life is an accumulation of problems swept under the rug.

What to start doing: Don’t run; talk. Don’t run; tackle the problem. Your supervisor may still be a monster, your mother sticks to her nasty ways, but you’ve pushed back. You’ve been that adult rather than the scared, angry 10-year-old who runs away. At some point, what you say will be heard and the problem will be fixed.

The theme here is clear: Figure out what you can’t do, where you settle, resign, go on auto-pilot, or avoid what is hard. Stop doing it. Try doing the opposite.

The NOLA Project theatre company is getting a new leading artistic

voice.

Ensemble member Brittany N. Williams (HARRY AND THE THIEF, SPARE MISSION 1) has

been tabbed as TNP’s first-ever Co-Artistic Director. She will assume the role in January of

2022.

Brittany N. Williams

“I’m thrilled to be joining The NOLA Project team as Co-Artistic Director,” Williams said.

“Working with this brilliant group of artists as an ensemble member has been wonderful and I’m

excited to help us grow and evolve as a company and as part of the greater New Orleans

community.”

Williams, is an actor, singer and writer. You last saw her on stage in TNP’s last in-person production,

HARRY AND THE THIEF (Vivian), at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2020. During the

pandemic, she penned one of the company’s four original PodPlays as well as provided her

voice for it and two others. Outside of TNP, Williams’ credits include Stage Door Songbook: Cole

Porter (Susan), Mary Full of Gray (Mary/writer) and she was the The National World War II

Museum’s 2019 Stage Door Idol winner.

Williams will share Artistic Director duties with current AD A.J. Allegra.

“I couldn’t be happier to announce the addition of Brittany N. Williams to our new shared

leadership model at The NOLA Project,” Allegra said. “She is a passionate, smart, and creative

theatre artist with an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. The pandemic-forced

pause in our work allowed our ensemble to look inward at ways in which we could strengthen

and improve our organization. And, I am so pleased that in the tradition of NOLA Project, and the

spirit of ensemble, we selected one of our own to co-lead the next era of The NOLA Project.”

Originally from Baltimore, MD, Williams performed across three continents – including a year

spent as a principal vocalist at Hong Kong Disneyland – and several US states prior to

relocating to New Orleans in 2017. Some favorite out-of-town credits include Universal Robots

(Helena), Margaret I (Joan of Arc), Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Nansi – Helen Hayes Award

nom.), Antony and Cleopatra (Soothsayer/Clown), and Lear (Cordelia/Fight Captain). Williams

holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Howard University and an MA in Classical Acting from the

Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.

Last time we saw her

Williams’ latest work will be on display this fall when The NOLA Project and the New Orleans

Museum of Art present her new play, TELL IT TO ME SWEET, in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

For more information on the original outdoor production, running October 29-November 14, please visit

NOLAProject.com. PRESS CONTACT: kclaverie@nolaproject.com | 504.913.5057

 In an unprecedented move, two opponents endorse each other during an election

District “C” Councilmember Kristin Palmer and District “D” Councilmember Jared Brossett announced that they are taking the unprecedented step of endorsing each other for the Council At-Large before the November 13th Primary. Palmer and Brossett are running against each other in a four-way race for the Division 2 Council At-Large seat that includes former State Senator JP Morrell. Typically opponents in the same race do not endorse the other until after one loses.

Why would they do this?

The opponents see an opportunity to move voters away from their primary opponent JP Morrell.  Polling shows Morrell making the runoff with either of them.  For Palmer this is a political calculation.  In addition to politics, the personal dispute between Brossett and Morrell just got revved up significantly. 

Brossett and Palmer have worked together on the Council on multiple issues, including the $15 an hour minimum wage for city employees. They worked on the growing Airbnb problem. But this unforeseen action is not only shocking but politically risky for each of them.  

We will see how or if this unprecedented move affects the primary.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Wait, the party out of power was complaining about the party in power trying to raise the debt ceiling? What year is it? I feel like we’ve been here before. Some would call this deja vu. Others would call it a glitch in the Matrix. But this is the debt ceiling debacle.

This episode played out predictably. I had trouble deciphering if it was a new one or just a re-run. At the heart of it all was the funding of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget.

Democrats, the party in power, we’re trying to rally two holdouts in the Senate. And Republicans were running around talking about how the budget would usher in the total ruination of the country. This all made for high drama.

Senators Sinema and Manchin contribute to the Debt Ceiling Debate

HOLDOUTS 1 & 2

Senator Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, also known as holdout #1, got jacked up in a bathroom by some citizens who still actually take national politics seriously. Not like literally jacked up, but you know, confronted, politely questioned in public about why she’s stalling President Biden’s budget.

Holdout #2, Senator Joe Manchin, a Republican who identifies as a Democrat, did what he usually does in highly partisan showdown. He got squeamish when Democrats started asking how he’ll be voting. Manchin subjected his fellow Democrats to a lot of public foot stomping over the green energy policies included in the budget. This shouldn’t be surprising. He’s a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal mining state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000.

Meanwhile, Republicans were dealing with their own internal drama. In one breath, it wouldn’t make proper partisan sense to be seen voting with the Democrats. But in another, it also wouldn’t make much political sense to sit back and watch the Democrats nuke the filibuster.

The filibuster is the only weapon a minority party in the Senate has to influence legislation. It takes 60 votes to break one, which is something no party in recent memory has had. So, a compromise is forced. Naturally, the threat of losing the filibuster scared the bee gee bees out of Mitch McConnell. So, he did the unthinkable: he rallied votes on behalf of the Democrats.

In the end, McConnell betrayed his party (their words) and did just enough to throw Democrats some cover fire until December. Instead of actually voting to raise the debt ceiling to cover the budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise it just enough to cover the bills until December. The price – $480 billion.

People who try to make sense of this ask: why when they vote to spend money we don’t have, they just don’t also raise the debt ceiling to cover it?

The answer: because there’d be no incentive to curb spending. Imagine if every time you were about to max out your credit card, the bank just increased your credit limit. You know all the trouble you’d get into?

Right now, the federal government is in $28 trillion of trouble, mainly because it has just that – unlimited credit. The debt that incurs is usually only a problem to the party that’s not in control of spending.

Over the years, the rhetoric surrounding the budget and federal spending has degenerated to stomp speeches and red meat for constituents. You can look for this to intensify until one party, probably Republicans, actually do something crazy like block the other party from raising the ceiling. Then all catastrophes will break loose.

But the good people in Washington made sure that is something we won’t have to worry about until Christmas. Think of it as a premature lump of coal in your stocking. In a month and a half, we’ll actually see if they will take all the merry out of Christmas.

By TiOnka Writez

On September 9, 2021,  President Biden signed the executive order to mandate the vaccination of all federal employees and employees operating with one hundred people within the private sector by 12/08/2021. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidelines. Unvaccinated employees are to submit a negative COVID-19 test result every 72 hours before reporting for duty. In true American fashion, the edge of a life-altering event stirs dissent. We understand the need to stop the virus. But the plan of tampering with the working classes’ lively hood is a bit extreme.

The three most common vaccine questions are:

1) Are you vaccinated?

2) When will you get vaccinated?

3) Why won’t you get vaccinated?

Depending on who is asking, you may need to ere on the side of caution when preparing to answer. The decision to vaccinate or not is causing a rift in home and work environments worldwide. The unvaccinated now face hostility. How did we, as a “united” nation, get here?

Now, I know what you are thinking. This COVID-19 virus is no joke. Humans have never faced this before. And you cannot fathom why anyone would object to a scientifically formulated and tested solution. However, The unvaccinated have real issues to consider. Initially there was confusing and mixed messaging. For instance, medical professionals advise patients to take the “shot” to save lives. But a liability waiver is necessary to proceed with vaccine administering. And multiple contracting cases and deaths by COVID-19 are on record in vaccinated individuals. Warnings of use labels, of course, are available on all over-the-counter and prescribed medications. But the difference here is choice and the ability to proceed with informed consent.

The first amendment (“Freedom of Speech”) means freedom of expression. If individuals express their desire not to receive the vaccination, accept their decision. Amidst the debt ceiling debate, now is not the ideal time to threaten Americans’ job security. Stifling employee wage-earning potential and restricting medical coverage for COVID-19 testing is counterproductive to replenishing a depleted economy.

We should develop a solution that considers the position of all parties involved. The most relevant question here is, who or what constitutes a valuable person?” The answer is simple; every living person holds value. And their opinion matters. Don’t bully or shame people for staying strong in their conviction. Placing restrictions on employment is not the best create trust and cooperation with the citizens you are attempting to save.

To vaccinate more people, appeal to what matters to them. Implement a solution to address daily issues like the unstable workforce or unjustly inflated insurance rates in certain areas. Address their concerns without gaslighting them, overlooking how they perceive your message or threatening them with excessive force.

RELATED: For some lack of access is the issue

         

            In my recent pandemic rant, I railed against adults, who, for no good reason, refused to get vaccinated. I argued that it constitutes reckless endangerment of our children. As I write this, yesterday (August 25), a baby and a 14-year-old football player died in Louisiana of COVID.

            My daughter Rebecca, who is a physician and has a nine-year-old, thought my rant was spot on. My son, Jonathan, also a physician and whose 8-year-old just recovered from COVID, could relate to my frustration, but he thought I should be more understanding of the unvaccinated. And my unvaccinated friend V called me up to say I can’t just call her a baby killer. I didn’t, and yet . . . what do the facts say?

            I know V extremely well and love her. But I can’t for the life of me see how she reaches her anti-vax conclusion. She’s not stupid. In fact, she is brilliant. She doesn’t buy conspiracy theories. She’s never been betrayed by doctors or the medical establishment. She’s generous and community oriented. But she’s not a Republican. And yet she’s one of those people I referenced in my rant that you can’t reason with.

            I have to grant, therefore, that my son’s approach may be more useful. He had a patient last week, an elderly woman with underlying conditions, who refused to get the shot because she was sure that the Lord would take care of her. He affirmed her strong faith and said he wanted to tell her a story/joke. You know, the one about a person in dire straits who refuses three rescue offers because she believes God will save her. She dies and then takes God to task for not answering her prayers. And God says, but I sent you X, Y, and Z.

            Jonathan, being a homeboy, gave it the New Orleans spin of a woman on a rooftop after Katrina. Boats and a helicopter came to the rescue, and she waved them away. His patient laughed uproariously and said she’d think about it. He had occasion to call her several times as a follow-up to their appointment asking various questions about her medical history. On the fourth call, she said she had some surprising news. She got the shot.

            “Great!” he said. “What made you decide?” She said she shared the hilarious story with a friend. When Jonathan called, she said that was God’s second message to her. When he called again – that was God’s third message. “I got in my car,” she told him, “To drive to the Walgreens. And if nothing happens on the way, I’ll know that God wants me to get the shot.”

            Jonathan is 1 for 0 on convincing people. I am 0 for 0. So I have to admit, as good and righteous as my rant felt – yes, his approach is proving more effective.

Breakthrough infections are to be expected, but it doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t working.

by Linda Geddes

As a growing number of people in wealthy countries get fully vaccinated, questions are being asked about why some of them are still becoming infected with coronavirus, in some cases even being hospitalised with COVID-19. Such “breakthrough infections” are to be expected, but just how common are they, and what should you expect if you test positive for SARS-CoV-2 having been fully vaccinated?

Vaccine efficacy

No vaccine is 100% effective. Even the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – one of the most powerful disease prevention tools we have – is only 96% effective against measles after two doses, while the seasonal flu vaccine is only 45% effective. Still, it is estimated to prevent 130,000 flu deaths in the US alone each year.

COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Clinical trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines found them to be 94-95% effective against all symptomatic COVID-19 disease after the second dose. This doesn’t mean that we’d expect 5-6 in every 100 people to develop COVID-19, but that there was a 94-95% reduction in new cases of the disease among people who had been vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated individuals. China’s Sinopharm vaccine was 78% effective and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective in clinical trials. Protection against hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 was even higher.

With large numbers of people being vaccinated, and as almost all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in some countries, it is inevitable that a small proportion of fully vaccinated individuals will become infected. An even smaller proportion will become seriously ill and die. What’s important is that the risk of a serious outcome is vastly lower for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to those who have received no vaccine doses.

Breakthrough infections

In the US, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has been quantifying the number of breakthrough infections, which it defines as cases in which SARS-CoV-2 is detected in a respiratory specimen 14 days or more after an individual has completed all recommended vaccine doses. Between 1 January and 30 April, 2021, 10,262 breakthrough infections were reported from 46 US states. At that time, 101 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For comparison, there were 11.8 million COVID-19 infections recorded during the same period – so these vaccine breakthrough infections represented only a tiny fraction of the total number. Also importantly, not all of these individuals reported feeling ill – 27% of those experiencing a breakthrough infection were asymptomatic.

Since 1 May, the CDC has only been identifying and investigating those breakthrough cases in which the individual was hospitalised or died due to any cause (i.e. not just as a result of COVID-19). As of August 2, 2021, more than 164 million people in the US had been fully vaccinated. In that time-span, the CDC identified 7,525 patients with a breakthrough infection who were hospitalised or died.

Shorter milder illness

Another recent analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed breakthrough infections among almost 4000 essential and frontline workers in Arizona, USA, vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Of the 205 coronavirus infections identified, the majority occurred among unvaccinated workers – with only five fully and eleven partially vaccinated individuals testing positive between mid-December 2020 and mid-April 2021. Those who had received at least one vaccine dose had a 40% lower viral load (the amount of live virus a person carries) on average, a 66% reduced chance of testing positive for COVID-19 for more than a week on a PCR test, and a 58% lower risk of experiencing fever, compared to unvaccinated individuals. Their other symptoms also subsided about six days earlier and they spent two days fewer ill in bed, on average.

“The mechanisms by which vaccination attenuates COVID-19 are largely unknown, but the effect is probably due to recall of immunologic memory responses that reduce viral replication and accelerate the elimination of virally infected cells,” the researchers wrote.

Delta variant

The initial clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines were conducted before the emergence and spread of new variants, such as Delta, which are able to overcome the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines to some degree.

In a recent study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, researchers at the Indian Council of Medical Research explored the possible reason for an increased number of breakthrough infections reported across the country. They collected nose and throat swabs from 677 individuals who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after receiving one or two doses or India’s Covaxin vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, or the Sinopharm vaccine. Genetic analysis revealed that in 86% of cases, the breakthrough infection was triggered by the Delta variant – although this could simply be a reflection of the variant’s prevalence at that time.

Other research also indicates that the vaccines may be less effective at preventing coronavirus infections in the face of the Delta variant. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infections, whereas the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 67% effective. A single dose of either vaccine was only 37% effective, underscoring the importance of receiving both doses.

However, COVID-19 vaccines still appear to be highly effective at preventing hospitalisation and deaths from the disease. Data from Public Health England, where the Delta variant now accounts for most COVID-19 cases, suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalisation with Delta after 2 doses, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 92% effective after 2 doses.

Living with the virus

Most experts agree that COVID-19 is now effectively endemic, meaning it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population and trigger outbreaks, although it may pose less a danger over time. Many had hoped that once a certain proportion of the population had been infected, or vaccinated against the disease, herd immunity would kick in, meaning those who hadn’t encountered the virus would be buffered from infection by those who were already immune to it. The spread of Delta, and other variants that can partially escape the immunity provided by vaccination or previous infection has raised the threshold for herd immunity, with some even questioning whether it can be achieved at all. However, COVID-19 vaccines can and do protect the majority of people from hospitalisation and death, which is why as many doses need to administered around the world as rapidly, and equitably, as possible.

Could New Public Board Do a Better Job?

In New Orleans, the city council regulates the power company.  This is a unique occurrence.  Everywhere else across the state, the state-run Public Service Commission regulates the power companies for local municipalities.  The commission regulates insures that every district has safe and reliable power at reasonable rates.  Utility regulation is complex and important.  Utility commissions make life changing decisions.  Should the city council regulate Entergy?

The state’s Public Service Commission has  five commissioners that represent different parts of the state. In New Orleans, while the entire council must approve any regulation, the utility committee interacts directly with the power company.  This unique authority provides citizens direct access to all of the regulators.  That council members are the regulatory body, a heightened sense of politicization affects the policy decisions. 

Is this the best solution? 

The notion of local control seems great.  Now, council members have direct management of the power company with access to the company executives circumvents excessive bureaucracy.  And for the company, New Orleans officials directly hear their concerns.  Win-win right?

The complexity of utility regulation is significantly high.  Even the state’s commission hires advisors and experts to help it understand their choices.  And the New Orleans City Council annually spends over a million dollars on utility consultants and attorneys.  Finding the sweet spot – a financially strong and profitable power company that provides safe, reliable and affordable electricity – is an extreme challenge.  Add in climate change and the stakes get higher.  Our Hurricane Ida experience exposes our vulnerability.  100% of the metro was out of power. 

Role of the City Council

The council is the legislative and partly administrative branch of city government.  New laws, potholes, marijuana laws, city budget, crime, internet and cable TV, housing, water and land use are some of the important work done by the council.  Our members serve four-year terms.  The approve the city budget.  The council has several subcommittees that meet regularly in addition to the normal every other Thursday regular meeting.

Entergy New Orleans(ENO) is a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, the city’s only Fortune 500 company.  ENO has been the power company in New Orleans for 99 years.  And ENO is guaranteed a reasonable profit. They must provide always on electricity and gas to homes and businesses. Additionally, the company must maintain the power grid for the city.  ENO attempts to maximize its’ profit through efficiency and minimizing expenses while continuing to provide high quality service.

Justice and Beyond Meeting Headed by Pat Bryant and Dr. Dwight Webster

Relationship Issues

The very nature of this business partnership requires informed and committed regulation.  Business intends to make the most profit possible providing desired service or products.  In the case of Entergy, cutting costs to increase profits might result in potential calamity.  Some have claimed the tower that collapsed during the storm is a prime example. They say the rusted and twisted metal indicates lack of proper maintenance.  Though not a part of ENO, this example provides insight into the difficulty regulators face.  How to oversee the wide and complex power grid.

But the New Orleans City Council is much more than just a regulatory body.  The city council must provide public policy, laws, budgets, and a host of other responsibilities. And the complexity of utility regulation is immense.  Even our state commission hires consultants and law firms.  Furthermore, none of the current council members is a utility expert.  The field is a specialty that requires specific skills and knowledge. We ask too much of council members. They are already burdened with everyday city stuff to oversee a powerful company.  Combine term limits to this equation and it’s no wonder that the same questions come up year after year.

Entergy is able to monetize our city government structure.  Council members cycle off every eight years.  New council members usually have no knowledge of the utility committee’s actions. Sometimes the new members’ campaigns were supported by ENO. Their ability to regulate may not be compromised. However, they may have more information about Entergy’s desires than the city’s position.

Therefore a diverse new board comprised not only of City Council members, but also citizens, independent industry experts, Entergy representatives, the New Orleans representative on the Public Service Commission, and university representatives should serve staggered 8-year terms.  This board should only regulate ENO.  This relieves burdened and inexperienced council members.  This new board will ensure that the threats of climate change are mitigated.  In other words, if we can not keep the lights on, then we no longer exist. 

The new power and gas board of New Orleans means we have a strong city for another 100 years.