March 5, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York. NY - Workers at the city’s main recycling plant now have a union. An eight-month organizing campaign at Sims Municipal Recycling’s Sunset Park facility culminated March 3, when workers voted 46-20 to join Teamsters Local 210.
The vote came three days after workers threatened to strike and the City Council held hearings on the labor situation at the facility, which processes all of the glass, metal, and plastic collected for recycling from residences, and about half the paper and cardboard. 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 workplace.
“As of today, Sims workers are not at-will employees,” Local 210 Secretary-Treasurer George Miranda said in a statement March 3. “Our union is working with the environmental-justice movement to transform New York’s sanitation industry to protect workers and communities. This victory at Sims is one step in that larger fight.”
“It feels so good to say that we are Teamsters,” added Jordy Lopez, a Sims worker and union leader. “We are thankful for the support we have received from the community and government officials. We fought so hard, but now it is a new day at Sims.”
The company fully respects the workers’ decision, Sims management said in a statement. “We look forward to proceeding to constructive contract negotiations with the Teamsters Local 210.” The union already represents workers at its Long Island City facility.
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who represents the Sunset Park-Gowanus area, praised the vote as “a victory for the workers” and as standing up for the rights of immigrants.
Sims has a 20-year contract with the city Department of Sanitation to process the recycled waste collected from homes and apartment buildings. The 11-acre Sunset Park facility, on the Gowanus Bay waterfront in the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, opened in 2013. It is the only city recycling facility that can transfer or receive recyclables by barge or train as well as by truck.
More than 70% of the workers there signed union cards the Teamsters presented to management in December, but the company insisted it would not recognize the union without an election. Workers had filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that management was illegally trying to undermine the union’s organizing efforts. Juan Pineda, a Dominican immigrant, told the Council Feb. 28 that he had worked for a year as a mechanic without being paid extra for the more skilled job, and been demoted to picker after he filed charges with the NLRB.
The March 2 agreement averted both a strike and a weeks-long campaign in which the company could have campaigned against the union.
Next, the Teamsters said, the workers will develop their contract demands and begin negotiations with Sims management. The union also plans to set up an interim grievance procedure to protect workers in any disciplinary action.
“Workers’ rights, community health, and zero waste are three pillars of a sustainable and equitable solid-waste management system,” Rachel Spector, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said in the Teamsters statement. “Today, Sims workers took an important step to ensure that waste industry jobs are high-quality green jobs, and that their voices will be respected and valued as our city moves toward zero waste.”