Recycling Workers Say They Are Geting Trashed

Recycling Workers Say They Are Getting Trashed     Oakland Post March 7-13, 2012

When garbage and recy­cling goes out to the curb, most of us do not think about what happens next.

Hundreds of Oakland waste workers want to change that by making the public more aware – and their em­ployer more accountable – for the wages, benefits and work­ing conditions in this very profitable – but often invis­ible – industry.

A century ago the waste business was small business. But now waste and recy­cling in Oakland and much of Alameda County is controlled by powerful corporations like Waste Management that are on the top of the Fortune 500.

Last year, the company reported revenues of $12.5 billion and profits of $953 million. CEO David Steiner collected $7 million in pay and benefits and enjoys a pri­vate jet.

But when it comes to paying the employees and respecting unions, executives at Waste Management are demanding pay cuts and benefit cuts from hundreds of employees, ac­cording to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which repre­sents the workers.

“Our work is hard and sometimes dangerous, but most people don’t even real­ize what we do to take care of everyone’s trash and recy­cling,” said Maria Sanchez, who works at Waste Manage­ment’s recycling operation in San Leandro, a few blocks from the Oakland Airport.

More than 100 ILWU members are responsible for sorting the recycled materi­als that come from residents in Oakland, San Leandro and another half-dozen East Bay communities.

Most recycling workers spend their shift standing in front of conveyor belts that move continuous loads of trash, glass, paper and plastic that must be sorted quickly and accurately.

“There’s usually lots of dust and dirt, sometimes even dead animals or poop,” says worker Victoria León. “We often cut our hands on sharp glass and metal – and some­times there are even dirty hy­podermic needles.”

In addition to the cuts and infections, there’s damage from repetitive stress injuries and the risk of working around dangerous machinery.

More than two-thirds of the workers earn just $12.67 an hour or less, and their opportunities for advance­ment are few. A majority of these workers are women, most are Spanish-speaking immigrants. The low wages mean many families live on the edge of poverty, despite working full-time.

Companies like Waste Management depend on win­ning lucrative waste and recy­cling concessions from cities like Oakland. That puts the City Council in a good posi­tion to hold these companies accountable for the services they provide and way employees are treated.

The ILWU is asking sup­porters and interested mem­bers of the public to go to Oakland City Council’s Pub­lic Works Committee, which is scheduled to talk about waste and recycling contracts on Tuesday, March 27 at 10:30 a.m.

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