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COVID-19: Teamsters Urge "Big 3" to Ensure Health, Safety of Waste Workers SWANA Image

COVID-19: Teamsters Urge "Big 3" to Ensure Health, Safety of Waste Workers

Teamsters have requested for the CEOs at Republic Services, Waste Management and Waste Connections to protect employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has requested for the CEOs of Waste Management (WM), Republic Services and Waste Connections to provide employees with adequate next steps for ensuring the health and safety of Teamsters members as they continue serving communities during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

In letters sent on March 18, Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division Director Chuck Stiles outlined a list of recommendations at each company so Teamster members are protected on the job and able to safely meet the needs of the community. Among the list of requests, Stiles has asked each company to address issues concerning paid time off (PTO) and medical leave by providing paid leave and changing attendance policies for infected employees. 

“Many Americans will transition to telework to avoid exposure, including many of your corporate employees. Our members, however, won’t have that option. Their boots will be needed on the ground each and every day. However, due to the company’s existing attendance policies, infected employees may find themselves without sufficient PTO time or unable to afford to take paid medical leave," said Stiles in his letters. "In order to keep their jobs and livelihood, the same infected employees would likely report to work. Should this scenario play out, the virus could quickly spread throughout your workforce."

Teamsters have vowed to ensure that:

  • Workers have access to free COVID-19 testing.
  • Every worker is provided some form of paid sick leave.
  • Workers are not punished for calling in sick.
  • Frontline workers who treat potentially infected populations be provided with the appropriate protective equipment.
  • Workers understand that they are entitled to worker compensation benefits if they are infected as a result of their work.
  • Those receiving unemployment benefits while affected by COVID-19 are exempt from searching for work during that time.

The “Big 3” solid waste companies have each posted COVID-19 updates to their sites, explaining their plans of action and precautionary measures to keep their employees safe through the pandemic.

“At Waste Management, we are committed to putting people first. The health and safety of our employees, customers and communities is our highest priority. Waste Management is taking precautionary steps in response to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada and other relevant federal, state and local agencies and experts to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19),” according to Waste Management’s alert.

“Our residential contact centers are temporarily closed as we actively coordinate remote operations for our employees. Business contact centers remain operational. Based on the available information, we are currently maintaining our standard collection service,” added WM. “We appreciate your patience as we prepare our employees and facilities across the U.S. and Canada to continue providing the services our customers need and expect.”

Republic posted the following update:

At Republic Services, the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities are a top priority. We recognize the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is evolving rapidly, and we are continuously evaluating the situation to ensure we can continue to provide superior service and support to our customers across the country. While we are confident that we have the right business continuity plans in place to quickly respond to situations that may impact the communities we serve, we apologize for any temporary service delays that may occur.

We will continue to monitor developments to ensure we address escalated situations quickly, effectively and⁠—most importantly⁠—safely. This includes continuing to work closely with public health experts and other advisors, as well as following guidance from the CDC. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

Waste Connections sent out the following message to its customers:

Our number one value at Waste Connections is the safety of our employees, our customers and the communities we serve. We are closely monitoring the current situation and are following guidance from the CDC, WHO and our state and local public health officials. We recognize that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has tremendous unknowns and could cause unanticipated service delays, service interruptions or unusually high call volumes.

We provide an essential service within our communities and strive to meet our customer commitments. At Waste Connections, we have developed and implemented business continuity plans to ensure our operations run as effectively as possible during this unique period in order to keep our commitment to provide the best possible service in a courteous, effective manner, and show respect and gratitude for those we are fortunate to serve.

In New York City, which shuttered bars, restaurants and large social gatherings for the foreseeable future, officials from the City of New York Department of Sanitation and Business Integrity Commission discussed the impact coronavirus could have on the city’s intricate waste collection system, POLITICO reports. Among their concerns is the hit private haulers could take, as waste volumes “decline off a cliff,” the report notes.

Officials there are also monitoring any other factors that could alter staffing size and impact residential or commercial service, including “sickouts,” according to POLITICO. The two unions that represent city and private sanitation workers, Teamsters Local 813 and Local 108, have provisions in their collective bargaining agreements that they can stop work in a state of emergency.

However, POLITICO points out that both agencies sent a letter to waste unions emphasizing that sanitation workers are “essential employees who perform a critical public service for the city in this time of crisis.”

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