Features, Law and Politics, New York, Transportation

Overnight Teamsters Strike Preserves Pensions At Trash Hauler

December 14, 2018

By Steve Wishnia

NEW YORK, N.Y.—An overnight strike by Teamsters Local 813 members at a Newark-based private trash collector Dec. 9-10 quickly persuaded the company to abandon its plans to pull out of the union’s multiemployer pension find.

IBT Local 813 President Sean Campbell.

The company, M&M Sanitation, a mid-size private carter that serves about 2,000 businesses in New York City, had demanded the right to withdraw from Local 813’s multiemployer pension fund at its own discretion if the fund got into financial trouble, a Teamsters Joint Council 16 spokesperson told LaborPress. After several months of negotiations, he added, the workers got frustrated and voted to strike. 

 “After you spend 25 years at this company, after you endure back injuries and herniated discs, you have a right to expect a decent retirement,” Benacio Crespi, a sanitation worker and shop steward at M&M Sanitation, said in a statement released by Teamsters Joint Council 16. “Without a pension, we lose our retirement. We went on strike to protect ourselves, our families, and the next generation.”

All of the company’s 15 Teamsters employees, who drive and load garbage trucks that collect commercial trash across the five boroughs, joined in the strike, the union said. Workers at Chelsea Sanitation, a smaller company affiliated with M&M, also joined.

“We are not going to stand by while private carters undermine the living standards of the working men and women who keep this city clean,” Local 813 President Sean Campbell said in the statement. “We are fighting back, in the streets and at City Hall, to make this a middle-class job again.”

“We are fighting back, in the streets and at City Hall, to make this a middle-class job again.” — IBT Local 813 President Sean Campbell

Numerous multiemployer pension funds, which operate in industries where union members regularly work for multiple employers—such as trucking, mining, construction, and entertainment—have fallen into financial trouble over the last decade. Trucking has been hit particularly hard: After the industry was deregulated in 1980, the number of union companies shrank, so the number of active workers paying into their pension plans fell below the amount needed to keep them financially viable.

Local 813’s pension fund has been undermined by private carters who stopped paying into it, the union said, but there is a recovery plan in place and it is on track to be fully funded. Last year, when the Queens-based carter Planet Waste ousted Local 813 and replaced it with the League of International Federated Employees Local 890—despite the National Labor Relations Board ordering it to bargain with Local 813 and stop harassing union supporters—owner Tom Tolentino told the Daily News that he was worried the Teamsters plan would bankrupt his company, and that his 15 drivers would rather have a 401(k) plan. 

The strike came at a time of turmoil and transition in the industry. The city Department of Sanitation is preparing to propose a “commercial waste zone” system for the private sanitation industry, in which carters would bid for routes in designated areas, and the city would set labor, environmental, and service standards for them. The Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition, which includes the Teamsters, 32BJ SEIU, and various small businesses and environmental groups, is backing the plan. Campbell said Local 813 is working “to ensure the strongest possible commercial waste zone policy passes the City Council.”

Local 813 says it has also found jobs for the workers who lost jobs at Sanitation Salvage last month, when the Bronx-based hauler, notorious for covering up a worker’s death on the job in 2017, closed after its license had been suspended for numerous safety violations. They have been placed at Action Carting, Royal Waste, and Waste Connections, all large unionized trash haulers.

December 14, 2018

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