Recycling Workers Fight for Fair Wages, Safety, and Dignity

Written by: Michael Katz, Senior Associate

An alarming number of injuries to recycling workers: The dirty and dangerous job of sorting and recovering recycled materials in Alameda County is performed by a mostly immigrant and largely female workforce. The workers are exposed to a host of dangers including contaminated hypodermic syringes, animal carcasses and feces, heavy dust and a host of sharp objects that cause injuries. On June 19, 2012, a waste worker in another part of the Davis Street facility was crushed to death – caused by Waste Management’s failure to follow safety laws, according to Cal-OSHA that fined the company more than $50,000 and issued two “Serious” citations for ignoring the law. The company is refusing to pay the fines and is trying to appeal the citations.

Right in Green For All’s own backyard, 250 recycling workers and their families are fighting for fair wages, safe working conditions and basic workplace dignity.

This Saturday, February 2, they are kicking off the Sustainable Recycling Justicia para Recicladores Campaign. Green For All staff and supporters will be joining the workers to show that we have their backs—and that jobs in the green economy should lift people up, with good workplace standards and just and healthy working conditions.

Alameda County recycling workers—which include many immigrants and people of color-- earn less than half the wages their counterparts earn in nearby San Francisco and San Jose, even though they work for the same contractors.  In Alameda County, workers are paid as little as $9 an hour and most earn $12 or less, while workers doing the same jobs in San Francisco and San Jose are paid $19 or more. Meanwhile, employees say they face hazardous working conditions, and face retaliation and intimidation when they complain.

We all pay for recycling and waste management services. We need to use our voice to demand that our dollars support safe, quality, local jobs.  When employers in any industry suppress wages and deny workers rights, it sends a signal to other employers, hurting all workers.  Consumers of green services and environmental advocates have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to stand behind the workers who make these important services possible.

These workers are putting their livelihoods on the line to stand up for their rights. In a few months, they start negotiating a new long long-term contract.  In the past, employers kept wages low and working conditions unsafe by negotiating unique contracts for each plant.  Today, our local recycling workforce is building power and will demand one contract for all workers that guarantees fair wages, safe, dignified work places and compliance with labor and immigration law. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO 

Join us this Saturday, 2/2, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. to support our local recycling workforce and learn about their dynamic campaign.  Participants will include recycling workers, policy experts, political leaders, community allies, and YOU! 

EVENT DETAILS 

WHEN: Saturday, 2/2, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

WHERE: ILWU Local 6 Union Hall, 99 Hegenberger Road, Oakland, CA

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