New York City has the chance to turn private sanitation jobs into great jobs if it supports a seven-point plan to fix the city’s commercial waste system, according to frontline workers from around the U.S. in a new report released by the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition.
The report features interviews with seven workers in the sanitation industry from around New York and the rest of the country and highlights how waste jobs can be safe and family supporting.
Many of the workers began their careers in sanitation working for low-road employers who resisted union organization and endangered worker safety, like Sanitation Salvage, the now shuttered company that tried to cover up the death of off-the-books employee Mouctar Diallo in November 2017.
“Some people might think that the workers who sort New Yorkers’ trash don’t deserve good jobs. But this is hard work and important work. New York will not reach our climate goals if not for the work I and my colleagues are doing at Sims. And with our union, we are showing that this can be a good job, too,” said Jessica Yance, crane operator at Sims Municipal Recycling and Teamsters member, in a statement.
The workers say there is much to praise in the commercial waste zone plan being finalized this year by the New York City Council and the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY). But they believe the city should structure its plan with “exclusive waste zones,” in which the city would assign one hauler to each commercial zone, holding them to labor, environmental, safety and pricing standards through a competitive bidding system.
Right now, exclusive waste zones remain outside the scope of the city’s plan.
"Too many companies treat private sanitation workers like the trash they pick up. An exclusive commercial waste zone system presents an opportunity to transform these jobs and guarantee that every sanitation worker in New York has a safe job, fair pay and respect at work," said Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813, in a statement.
The workers say that New York must:
- Enact policies to create a level playing field where good employers and good unions can succeed.
- Include specific worker protection provisions in the waste zone contracting process.
- Use the commercial waste zone policy to reward companies that implement a rigorous culture of safety and fairness.
- Limit one hauler to each commercial waste zone (exclusive zoning) to maximize both efficiency and safety.
- Prioritize hiring and job training for communities that are often excluded from good jobs.
- Set standards to create good, safe jobs at recycling, composting and transfer station facilities.
- Support entrepreneurship and diversity in the recycling and diversion sector through minority and women-owned enterprises (MWBEs) subcontracting requirements and financial support to community-based sustainability efforts.
"NYC needs good union jobs, NYC needs cleaner, safer trucks and NYC needs safe streets. The commercial waste zone policy is an unprecedented opportunity to tackle these issues in one common-sense reform. An exclusive zone system with high standards will be a win for workers, a win for our environment, a win for our communities and a win for MWBEs and innovators in the waste industry," said author Justin Wood, director of organizing and strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, in a statement.
“It's fitting that we are releasing this report the same month that Martin Luther King Jr. visited with striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, in a statement. “Sanitation workers have been on the front lines of the struggle for racial and economic justice for decades. Far too many continue to toil in a dangerous, unpaid and under-appreciated profession that is absolutely essential to the public health of our city. They deserve more—safe working conditions, reasonable hours and union protections.”