Organizing to Reclaim Our Industry


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Allan HenryI got my first job as a sanitation worker in 1985 at a private company in the Bronx. The pay – $16.10 an hour – was good for a 15-year-old black man at the time. And it was more than a job; it was the beginning of a career.

In the three decades that followed, I saw this industry decline to the point that workers are starting just above minimum wage. My son followed in my footsteps and became a sanitation worker a few years ago. In a generation, the starting wage had fallen to about $11 per hour.

After 30 years of watching my livelihood deteriorate, after seeing my son enter a job that was no longer the career I had, and after seeing my fellow workers endure longer and longer hours and be exposed to unconscionable safety risks, I said enough was enough. I went to work for my union, Teamsters Local 813, to organize workers and take back this industry for the people who work in it.

I am inspired by the non-union private sanitation workers I have organized with who are standing up and fighting for justice.

One worker, a Haitian immigrant named Sidney Marthone, started meeting with union organizers over a year ago. He talked about how his employer cut corners on worker safety – how garbage workers hang off the back of garbage trucks while they speed through the streets and how he works with damaged equipment. Recently, Sidney suffered the consequences of his employer’s recklessness when a broken dumpster fell off the back of his truck and severed his finger. He hasn’t been able to work in the six months since that injury.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that wages have fallen and abuses have increased as the industry has hired more and more people of color and undocumented immigrants. It’s a workforce that many see as exploitable. But as the Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 movements have shown us, economic justice is racial justice, and racial justice is economic justice.

Sidney and other people of color in private sanitation are fighting back. Workers recently spoke at City Hall about the dangers they are exposed to on the job and demanded action from their elected officials.

As workers organized, we learned that we are not the only ones suffering. I have rallied with environmental justice community members who are fighting the presence of noxious facilities in low-income communities of color. And as New Yorkers mobilize to reach a goal of zero waste by 2030, my colleagues recognized that raising our industry's low recycling rates would be an essential part of our efforts to support the community.

We have seen how other cities around the country, like Los Angeles and San Jose, have already reformed their sanitation systems and New York can do the same. Sanitation workers will accept nothing less.

Allan Henry is an organizer with Teamsters Local 813.

Editor’s Note: The third regional summit on worker voice is May 6 in New York City. The Department of Labor and the White House are focused on bringing together seasoned and emerging leaders from across the country who are lifting up workers’ voices to be active participants in this conversation. Join the conversation online and help us continue to #StartTheConvo and share why having #WorkerVoice is important to you.

 

Organizándonos para Reclamar Nuestra Industria

Por Allan Henry

En 1985 obtuve mi primer trabajo como empleado de una empresa privada del Bronx dedicada a la limpieza urbana y recogida de basuras. La paga de $16.10 por hora no estaba mal para un muchacho afroamericano con 15 años. Y fue más que un mero trabajo: fue el comienzo de una carrera.

En las tres décadas siguientes he visto el declive de esta industria hasta el punto de que los trabajadores empiezan cobrando apenas por encima del salario mínimo.  Mi hijo siguió mis pasos y hace algunos años se hizo trabajador de limpieza urbana. El salario de partida ha caído a $11 por hora en sólo una generación.

Después de 30 años de ver mi como mi calidad de vida iba deteriorándose, después de observar a mi hijo entrar en un trabajo que ya no era como la carrera que yo tuve, y después de ver a mis compañeros de trabajo aguantar más y más horas y estar expuestos a inconcebibles riesgos a su seguridad, me dije a mi mismo: ya basta! Fui a trabajar por mi unión, los Teamsters Local 813, para organizar a trabajadores y recuperar esta industria para aquellos que la trabajan.

Me inspiran por los trabajadores sanitarios del sector privado no sindicalizados que he organizado y que se han puesto de pie y están luchando por justicia.

Uno de esos trabajadores, un inmigrante haitiano que se llama Sidney Marthone, empezó hace un año a reunirse con los organizadores del sindicato. Relataba cómo su patrón toma atajos respecto a la seguridad de los trabajadores, cómo los recogedores de basura se cuelgan de la parte trasera de los camiones mientras surcan velozmente las calles, y también el equipamiento deteriorado con el que trabaja. Sidney sufrió recientemente las consecuencias de la imprudencia temeraria de su empleador cuando un contenedor malogrado se cayó de la parte trasera del camión, seccionándole un dedo. Sidney no ha podido volver a trabajar en los seis meses desde que se produjo la lesión.

No creo que sea casualidad que los salarios hayan caído y que los abusos hayan aumentado a medida que la industria contrata a más y más gente de color y a inmigrantes indocumentados. Es una fuerza de trabajo que muchos ven como explotable. Pero como nos han enseñado los movimientos Black Lives Matter y Fight for $15, la justicia económica es justicia racial, y la justicia racial es justicia económica.

Sidney y otras personas de color le están plantando cara a la industria privada del saneamiento. Varios trabajadores testificaron recientemente en el Ayuntamiento sobre los peligros a los que se exponen en el trabajo, y exigieron la actuación de sus funcionarios electos.

A medida que nos organizamos aprendimos que no somos los únicos que estamos sufriendo.  Me he reunido con miembros de la comunidad por la justicia medioambiental que están luchando contra la existencia de instalaciones nocivas en comunidades raciales de bajos ingresos. Y a medida que los neoyorquinos se movilizan para alcanzar una meta de cero desechos para el año 2030, mis colegas saben que subir las bajas tasas de reciclado en nuestra industria será parte esencial de nuestros esfuerzos para apoyar a la comunidad.

Hemos visto cómo otras ciudades del país como Los Ángeles y San José han reformado ya sus sistemas de saneamiento, y Nueva York puede hacer lo mismo. Los trabajadores de saneamiento no aceptaremos nada menos.

Allan Henry es organizador con Teamsters Local 813.

Nota del editor: La tercera cumbre regional sobre la voz de los trabajadores es el 6 de mayo en Nueva York. El Departamento de Trabajo y la Casa Blanca están centrados en reunir a líderes experimentados y emergentes de todo el país que están levantando las voces de los trabajadores para participar activamente en esta conversación. Únete en línea, ayúdanos a seguir #StartTheConvo y comparte por qué tener #WorkerVoice es importante para ti.


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Comments

Allan, my grandfather (born 1896) was an immigrant in this country and went to work in the mills in Massachusetts. Back then there were terrible abuses of power among employers and unfathomable safety hazards. He testified as a 14 yo at Congress after there was violence at a strike at his mill. However, his generation and those slightly after him REALLY were the heroes of protecting the workforce of today. NOTHING compares to that time, and as much as you talk about the conditions you, your son, your workforce have... nothing compares. And I'd like to know ALL of the details of the work-related injury that took place with your friend Sidney. How long was the truck in need of repair? Did he or other report it to maintenance? Was the incident investigated? What responsibility did Sidney have in the situation? Was he under medication that day, did he have an argument with someone, etc. You see Allan, single source of injury went out with the 1970s, and if you blame ONLY the employer, you unfortunately miss large opportunities to protect your workers. For example, injuries today are believed to have multiple causes. That's what it means to build a safety culture - employers and employees working together... but you don't get that. You will blame the employer first, and only. That's wrong, dangerous to your workforce, and no longer appropriate. I have a question... why does the Union write articles for the DOL? Are the two connected? Also, you state: "After 30 years of watching my livelihood deteriorate, after seeing my son enter a job that was no longer the career I had, and after seeing my fellow workers endure longer and longer hours and be exposed to unconscionable safety risks, I said enough was enough. I went to work for my union, Teamsters Local 813, to organize workers and take back this industry for the people who work in it." Now at this juncture, when apparently you and an industry was being miss-treated for many, many years, why didn't you start your own sanitation company? If you knew what you wanted to do with wages, benefits, safety, and other benefits for low-skilled workers, why did you not start your own company? The DOL, SBA, and many others have special program for new companies? Also, I didn't read anything in your article about what you are doing about the future - moving your industry along with technology (self-driving sanitation trucks, minimal labor for workers, decreased workforce)? Are you (the Union) training your people in new skills for the future? Or, are you holding the industry back?

Wow. It goes so much further. My grandparents had a garden of flowers and food. The compost of waste was not wasted. We are a convenient hurry up multi tasking, only looking at the moment. Grab and Go!! My grandparents survived the great depression. I survived the recession.

I think we should have robots doing this job because it is incredibly dangerous. People don't change. Americans are a throw away society. More is better. The More Syndrome.

I appreciate the efforts of everyone that makes America a beautiful place.

Sidney, I feel your pain, but I assure you, the union is not the way to go. I'm from down south and had to join the union to get a job. I live in a right-to-work- state which says you do not have to be a member of a union to work but the federal government at the MOX facility signed a labor agreement with the local unions and now the workers take the hit. We have a benefits package which is paid to the union in the workers name but we never see how it is applied. We are told but nothing is in writing. Local 150 makes its members take its insurance whether they want it or not. They make their members pay over twice as much as the insurance cost and no one knows where the extra money goes. One of the trustees has a "special" relationship with the insurance agent and this 7 million dollar account just slips through the cracks with no accountability. No one is allowed to opt out even those who have spouses whose insurance is better than what the local has to offer. A lot of people believe there are people getting kick-backs but we can't find anyone to investigate as every agency says it is not there job. So do what you must do, but be careful what you wish for. The union I know is a fiasco and the members are being taken advantage of but do not know what to do.

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