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Cleaning Up—Environmentally and Economically, Recycling Makes Sense

Standing up for the rights of sanitation workers, the Teamsters Union is promoting recycling and other “green” initiatives that help the environment and create family wage jobs. By promoting curbside recycling, a wealth of new jobs are created as they often require extra pickups and additional people to sort and separate the waste.

The Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling and Related Industries Division currently represents more than 32,000 members and the union is committed to standing up for the rights of sanitation workers. They will continue building a movement of workers and community in order to bring justice and dignity to those who work to keep our cities and neighborhoods clean.

The formation of the division in 2006 allows for a greater focus on recycling, among other goals, priorities and concerns of workers in all waste-related industries. Across the United States, recycling is working. Because recycling works, thousands of Teamsters across the country are working as well.

That is the overall finding of the U.S. Recycling Economic Information (REI) Study,  commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various states in cooperation with the National Recycling Coalition (NRC). According to the nationwide study, the recycling industry plays a vital role in boosting the U.S. economy through economic development and job creation.

The private sanitation industry is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few powerful corporations—Waste Management, Allied Waste/BFI and Republic—all multi-billion dollar companies that make enormous profits from our discards. Yet, unorganized workers in this industry are often paid poverty wages for grueling and dangerous work. The Teamsters are committed to fighting for dignity and respect for the more than 150,000 unrepresented workers in these industries to help them win brighter futures through union representation.

A major concern is safety. The National Commission of Inquiry into the Worker Health and Safety Crisis in the Solid Waste Industry launched an investigation into safety issues at Waste Management and found systemic problems within the company, characterizing WMI’s safety program as using an “archaic, misguided approach.”

A report by the commission titled, In Harm’s Way, found that 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life in an effort to fight for civil and worker rights for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, many of the same issues that led to the strike remain prevalent in the industry even today. These workers still face very real threats to their health on a daily basis, including handling hazardous materials without proper safety equipment.

 The safety issues that Dr. King died fighting for, and the 1968 strikers stood united against, still remain at Waste Management. As more workers organize with the Teamsters, and communities understand what these workers face on the job, we can bring about broad change in this industry and at this company so that working in sanitation is no longer one of the most dangerous jobs in this country.

Excerpted from: March/April 2007 Teamster magazine

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