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Pre-Mardi Gras job fair ensured a thorough post-celebration clean-up

* Mardi-gras.jpgThe City of New Orleans Department of Sanitation and JOB1, held a pre-Mardi Gras job fair to recruit 150 temporary employees who would clean the city both during and after the 2016 festival, which has just taken place.

Those attending the job fair were also given information about a limited number of full time, permanent employment opportunities with the City's Department of Sanitation.

Qualified individuals were selected to attend an orientation session and register for a required, two-day job readiness class in advance of the Mardi Gras clean-up operation. Attendees had to take their Social Security card and State-approved photo identification card in order to sign-up for the job readiness course.

Temporary employees earnt $10.10 an hour and had the potential to earn up to $1,000 during the two week Mardi Gras season, which ran from January 29th to February 10th.

The job fair was sponsored by the City's Department of Sanitation and Office of Workforce Development in partnership with Total Community Action and numerous NOLA For Life social service partners. As well as achieving clean streets, the project, which launched in 2013, aimed to attract those from target populations - chronically hard to employ and ex-offenders.

In previous years the City had partnered with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, using inmate labor to aid in the cleanup effort. Today, a mixture of volunteer city, JOB1 and contract labour is used.

Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, the City's sanitation director, said of the event: "We will continue to invest in the residents of New Orleans by offering job opportunities and job readiness training through our partnership with JOB1. We hope that this opportunity leads residents to full-time employment."

The city's Mayor Mitch Landrieu got involved in the process and even attended the Mardi Gras Cleanup Crew Check-In, meeting the crews that would be responsible for cleaning the streets, neutral grounds and sidewalks after the parades.

"The success of Mardi Gras depends on the city returning the streets to normalcy and cleanliness as soon as possible after each parade," he said.

"Up to 600 City workers, temporary workers, and contractor employees are utilised each day in clean-up efforts."

Andru Okun, reporting on the clean-up for 'bestofneworleans.com' said that within three hours, nearly all of the refuse had been cleared away, with just threads of beads left hanging from tree branches, power lines and traffic poles. The abandoned chairs, couches, food scraps, foam cups, cigarette butts, beer cans, bottles and all the odds and ends synonymous with the city's Carnival celebration had all disappeared.

The 600-strong team of cleaners had 114 pieces of equipment, including seven front-end loaders and 30 garbage and dump trucks. "On any given night, these often overlooked and underappreciated labourers pick up anywhere between 50 to 100 tons of trash, working late into the evening to erase nearly all signs that a parade had ever passed anywhere along the miles-long route," he said.

"Trailing behind the last Uptown parade of the evening is a fleet of sanitation vehicles and a large crew of workers. A mighty vehicle called a flusher leads the way, carrying around 3,000 gallons of water and spraying the streets at high pressure from jets attached to the truck's front bumper (the water helps weigh down the garbage).

"Behind it is a band of rakers, dozens of men and women on foot using plastic rakes to push trash into the centre of the street. Then comes a front-end loader, a tractor more commonly seen on large construction sites, that plows down the line of garbage, consolidates it, scoops it up and drops it into a dump truck that drives behind.

"Mechanical street sweepers follow, three-wheeled compact vehicles with powerful brooms on their undersides.

"Past the sweepers is another set of labourers on foot, a precision crew carrying rakes, shovels and wheeled garbage cans, picking up anything that was missed by the workers in front of them.

"Penultimate is a line of garbage trucks, edging along the route and absorbing stray bags of trash and the contents of garbage cans.

"Finally, several flatbed stake trucks fortify the rear, collecting rakes, shovels and garbage cans."

Andru spoke with Jarmal Coates - a clean-up crew first-timer who was enjoying the work. "It ain't like it affects your Mardi Gras spirit," he told Andru. "I still get to see the parades. And when you're cleaning up, you still see everybody partying. You still get that vibe, you know?"

Jarmal was one of those who had attended the job fair through JOB1.

Ronald Jackson is a veteran of Mardi Gras cleanup crews. He's worked for the Department of Sanitation for 24 years and has cleaned the parade routes just as long. "You get to see a lot of different things when you come out to the parade," he told Andru. "Meet a lot of different people, because people come from all over the world for Mardi Gras."

Ronald clocks in to his regular shift at 06:00 - despite the parade clean-up often keeping him out until well past midnight.

"When you be working those long hours, you be tired," he said. "But the people of St. Charles Avenue, they want the street clean. It don't matter how much trash is out there. If we got to stay longer hours to clean St. Charles, we stay out there until St. Charles is cleaned up."

Ronald plans to retire in seven years, when he turns 65 and hits his 30-year anniversary working for the Department of Sanitation. He takes pride in what he does, saying:

"People, they come out the next day and they say, 'Oh, it don't look the same as when Mardi Gras was out here,'. Thanks to us. We cleaned it up."

New Orleans used to measure the success of Carnival season based on the tonnage of trash collected, a practice ended by former Mayor Ray Nagin's administration in 2003. "We're just not going to continue to reinforce that trashing the city is a good thing," Mayor Nagin said at the time.

In 2015, the City's Mardi Gras festivities produced more than 907 tons of rubbish. This enormous amount of debris produced by what has been dubbed 'the biggest free party on earth', costs $1.5 million to pick up.

11th February 2016

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