Blue Collar Buzz, Municipal Government, New York

This Week’s Buzz: The Courage of Nurses, The Plight of Private Sanitation Workers And More!

MayMay 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

Neal Tepel with Allan Henry and Brigid Flaherty.

Neal Tepel with Allan Henry and Brigid Flaherty.

New York, NY – On this week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” — airing May 22 at 9 p.m. on AM970 The Answer — we’re going on the job with New York’s nurses and private sanitation workers to find out why their respective workplaces have become such dangerous places for themselves — and the rest of the general public. We’re also taking hard looks at the supermarket industry with newly-elected UFCW Local 1500 President Anthony Speelman and pension plans with Milliman Principal & Consulting Actuary Victor Harte.

Last week, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) led a energized coalition of labor groups and grassroots organizations to Albany to help push for the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act. Unlike, the great state of California, New York State presently does not have a cap on the number of patients individual nurses at hospitals and nursing facilities can be assigned. Anthony Ciampa, RN, 2nd vice-president, NYSNA, calls the situation nothing short of a “healthcare crisis.”

“It can be a nightmare for nurses to go to work,” Ciampa tells LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” team. The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act has a real chance of soon becoming the law of the land and ending frightening scenarios where a single nurse might be expected to care for a dozen or more patients at one time. But while the need appears painfully evident, critics maintain that hiring more nurses will simply cost the state too much money and endanger the economic health of hospitals. 

“That’s just baloney,” Ciampa says. “It’s been done in California and not one hospital has closed.”

At one time, New York’s private sanitation industry offered good jobs with solid pay, job protections and benefits. Industry veteran and Teamsters Local 813 Organizer Allan Henry and ALIGN Organizing Director Brigid Flaherty, however, say that those days are long gone. Now that people of color constitute the majority of the workforce, salaries have dropped while unsafe conditions for workers and low-income communities have soared. 

“In north Brooklyn there are still facilities that are sited 30 feet from residences,” Flaherty says. “There are facilities in the Bronx that are across the street from schools — you don’t have to put these facilities there. This is creating a public health safety issue.”

Non-unionized private sanitation companies, meanwhile, have done much to create the “wild west” atmosphere that, according to critics, is increasingly putting the lives of workers at risk. Existing regulations limit the number of hours drivers can log on the road, for instance, but that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous employers from flouting the law and intimidating drivers who resist. 

“If an employee tells his boss, ‘I’m bringing the truck in because I’m not allowed to drive over 14 hours,’ he’s fired,” Henry says. “The worker is voiceless.”

Milliman's Victor Harte joins Blue Collar Buzz Host Neal Tepel.

Milliman’s Victor Harte joins Blue Collar Buzz Host Neal Tepel.

The supermarket industry is another sector where employees — some with decades on the job — are finding themselves rendered mute. In response, UFCW Local 1500 has begun a campaign to organize workers in new and creative ways. 

“We’re doing it as a team,” Speelman tells “Blue Collar Buzz.” One local can’t do it alone anymore — we’ve got to do it together.” 

UFCW Local 1500 Political Director Brendon Sexton, also argues that big market supermarket chains employing PR firms to appeal to progressive customers concerned with fair trade issues and the like — are actually getting off “scot-free” when it comes to the rights of workers. 

A decline in union rolls is among the handful of reasons why so many current pension plans are on track to run out of money, according to Harte. And solutions for rescuing workers' retirement plans are in short supply. 

Explains Harte, “The difficulties have been building up for 10 or 15 years.” 

Tune into LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” this Sunday evening from 9 to 10 p.m. on AM970 The Answer for all this and more. Or download this and every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” on demand at www.am970theanswer.com.

May 18, 2016

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