Features, Health and Safety, New York

Brooklyn Recycling Workers OK First Union Contract

August 17, 2017

By Steve Wishnia

New York, NY – Workers at Sims Municipal Recycling’s Sunset Park facility voted overwhelmingly Aug. 16 to ratify their first union contract as members of Teamsters Local 210. The three-year pact, approved by 91% of the voters, will give them immediate raises and a union health-care plan with all premiums paid by the company.

Sims workers began trying to organize a union last summer. “We worked so hard to get to this point, but it was worth it,” José Lopez said in a statement released by Teamsters Joint Council 16. “This contract ensures that the workers who recycle New York City’s waste will be treated with respect and will be able to take care of their families. We are proving that immigrants can win justice through solidarity, even in Trump’s America.”

The contract, a Joint Council 16 spokesperson told LaborPress, will give raises averaging $1.06 an hour in take-home pay in its first year and 60¢ an hour in its second and third years. It also includes a retirement plan, increased vacation time, a higher-education program, and protections against discrimination.

Workers will also be moved to Local 210’s health-care plan, with Sims paying the premiums. Previously, workers had paid $0.61 to $2.64 per hour for premiums on the company’s plan, with copayments of $30 for a primary-care doctor and $50 for a specialist. The union plan has $20 copayments for in-network doctors.

Sims’ 11-acre Sunset Park facility, on the Gowanus Bay waterfront in the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, opened in 2013. It handles all the city’s residential metal, glass and plastic recycling—267 tons in the fiscal year 2016, according to Department of Sanitation figures—and about half the paper and cardboard, about 150 tons. It is also the only city recycling facility that can transfer or receive recyclables by barge or train as well as by truck.

The mostly immigrant workers began organizing in the summer of 2016, spurred by high health-care costs, disrespect from bosses, and occupational injuries. In December, Local 210 presented management with union-authorization cards signed by more than 70% of the workers, but the company refused to bargain. The Teamsters filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that management had retaliated against union supporters. Worker Juan Pineda said in February that he had been demoted and denied a raise he was due.

They enlisted the support of local City Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca and Antonio Reynoso, as well as community and environmentalist organizations who joined with the Teamsters in a coalition called Transform, Don’t Trash NYC. “Economic justice and environmental protection must go hand in hand,” Eric A. Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement after the ratification. “Today’s vote is a symbol of things heading in the right direction.”

On Feb. 28, the workers held a rally at City Hall, threatening to strike, and the Council held a hearing on the situation. On March 2, the Teamsters and Sims management agreed to hold an immediate election, with the company agreeing to stay neutral and grant union organizers access to the facility. The next day, workers voted 46-20 to join Local 210.

“This victory would not have been possible without the support of our friends in the labor and environmental justice movements, the Sunset Park community, and our elected officials,” Local 210 Secretary-Treasurer George Miranda said in a statement. “This is a win that will transform the lives of the immigrant workers at Sims, but it is part of a larger fight to transform New York City’s sanitation system. We are going to win that fight too, for all our workers and communities.”

August 17, 2017

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