May 5, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – The tug-o-war over the future of New York City's commercial sanitation industry is getting ugly following a special city council hearing held less than a week ago, in which private carting company workers testified about slave wages, 16-hour shifts and dangerously faulty equipment.
During testimony delivered before the Committee on Sanitation and Waste on April 29, Michael Bush an employee at Five Star Carting in Maspeth, told elected officials that he feared speaking out about workplace injustices would wind up costing him his job.
Two days later, Bush's fears were confirmed when he, and another Five Star employee named Carlton Darden, who also testified before the city council committee, were handed termination notices.
Transform Don't Trash NYC, the coalition of organized labor and environmental groups presently pushing hard to reform the commercial sanitation industry, subsequently sprung into action in defense of the fired Five Star employees.
But in a surprise twist, both Bush and Darden were reportedly rehired ahead of a Monday morning press conference with Teamsters Joint Council 16 slated to take place outside Five Star Carting's garage at 58-35 47th Street.
The action was called off, and Five Start Carting owner Anthony Tristani later maintained that Bush and Darden were never actually fired, and that both men were induced to deliver damaging testimony before the city council.
"They lied," Tristani told LaborPress. "The union paid those guys to make those statements and they're all false."
Alex Moore, a spokesperson for Teamsters Joint Council 16, dismissed Tristani's claims as "ridiculous" and produced a photo of the termination letter the union says Darden received last Friday indicating he was, in fact, fired for allegedly being excessively late to work.
In his testimony before last week's committee meeting, Darden described earning just $8.75 an hour with Five Star Carting and having to shell out as much as $1,000 a year for equipment necessary for the punishing, all-weather job of commercial trash collection.
"When you only earn minimum wage and are working 60 hours a week in the bitter cold, snow and ice, I feel like I’m being used and taken advantage of," Darden said.
Co-worker Michael Bush said that he actually felt like a slave working for Five Star Carting.
"The law says you can’t drive past 14 hours, but my driver and I often do because we have too many stops and we are expected to finish the route," Bush testified. "The boss doesn’t care about the law. I feel as if I’m a slave."
The Transform Don't Trash NYC coalition supports implementation of a franchise system in the commercial sanitation industry, in part, to end workplace abuses.
On Monday, Tristani said the commercial sanitation industry is operating "fine," and called the union "leeches" who were trying to "intimidate" him.
Council member Elizabeth Crowley, meanwhile, called the working conditions at Five Star "un-American."
"Every working person has a right to a living wage, to be safe at work, and to speak freely about concerns at their job without fear of retribution," Council member Crowley [D-30th District] said in a statement. "Five Star needs to rethink how it treats its workers if it wants to do business in this city in the future."
The Teamsters say they will file unfair labor practice charges against Five Star Carting at the National Labor Relations Board for illegally firing Darden and Bush.