October 8, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY - Poorly paid private sector waste and recycling collectors throughout the five borough have some of the dirtiest and demanding jobs out there, but a newly-launched effort to transform the way the Big Apple deals with commercial trash pick ups could soon help change all that. Watch Video
Numerous major cities across the United States, including Seattle, Washington, Miami, Florida and San Jose, California, have already found that imposing a franchise system on private sector waste and recycling collection not only results in higher wages and benefits for workers, it also cuts down on pollution and cleans up communities.
A new coalition of labor groups, health advocates and grassroots organizations called “Transform Don’t Trash NYC” is now seeking to implement a similar system here.
Last week, George Miranda, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 16, joined with community partners and several elected officials on the steps of City Hall to tout a new report issued by the Alliance For a Greater New York [ALIGN] that outlines the franchising plan.
“Right now, commercial waste is the wild west,” Miranda said. “Our Teamsters brothers represented by Local 813, see a race to the bottom every day. The bad actors undercut the good companies on wages, benefits, safety and the environment.”
According to the “Transform Don’t Trash NYC” report, collection worker salaries in the commercial waste hauling industry are in decline with real wages for new hires in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island all falling between 2006 and 2011. Incredibly, Richmond County workers who started the job two years ago, earned less than $20,000. Alarming disparities in pay along ethnic lines and citizenship status were also uncovered.
“For twenty-five years, low-income communities and communities of color have been buried by a mountain of commercial waste,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Not only have these communities’ environmental qualities been buried, but frankly, labor opportunities for fair working conditions and good pay, have been buried as well.”
Teamsters Local 813 President Sean T. Campbell said that, once upon a time, jobs in the commercial sanitation industry offered good pay, ample benefits and secure pensions. But not any longer.
“I can honestly say that the majority of private carters pay very low wages and little in benefits,” Campbell said. "Many [also] break the most basic health and safety regulations on a daily basis.”
Under a new franchising system, select private haulers bound by both environmental and labor standards, would bid on special franchise zones created throughout the city. According to the report’s authors, the new franchise system would ensure “high road” environmental and labor practices, while also putting an end to the private waste sector's current “race to the bottom."
Each year, New York City’s restaurants, offices and businesses produce 3.2 million tons of solid waste. Most of it, after being carted off by low-wage workers, ends up buried in landfills or burned in incinerators.
The coalition is now hoping to meet with present administration officials, as well as both major mayoral candidates, to discuss the ideas in the "Transform" report.
Several council members have reportedly already expressed interest in introducing new legislation to address problems in the commercial waste industry. Action could come before next spring.
“I am so proud that the environmental justice movement, that the labor movement, that elected officials, that community groups, are all coming together on this issue,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council. “They’re working hard. They recognize there is an issue with regard to this industry that needs to be spoken to and addressed.”