The real story of labor’s fight over private trash in NYC

Letter to the Editor – CRAIN’S

To the Editor:

There is something amiss about Teamsters Local 813 and its allies’ account of what has to be done to fix the New York City commercial sanitation market (“Waste-industry overhaul plan advances in City Hall”).

First, Local 813 portrays itself as the only voice of workers in the industry. Laborers’ Local 108 represents about 1,000 of them, far more than the Teamsters do.

Second, the Teamsters stress the need for higher safety standards while advancing a plan that has nothing to do with that. Their miracle cure of “franchising” would give long-term contracts to companies to provide exclusive services in specified geographic zones. Elsewhere, this kind of change has taken years, if ever, to figure-out. It was considered and abandoned in Chicago and is still—after two years—in planning in Los Angeles. New York is more, not less, complicated.

The best New York City operators, like IESI, Action Environmental Services, and Filco Carting, have greatly improved their safety practices, showing that enhancing safety doesn’t require changing the design of a market. It requires expeditiously empowering a city agency with regulatory authority and enforcement resources to go after unsafe companies, including by taking away their licenses.

The necessary agencies are already here. The city’s Business Integrity Commission eliminated organizing crime from this industry and needs a new regulatory task. The Department of Sanitation, covering residential service, is the expert on New York City trash collection. The two recently began working together on commercial issues. Given the right tools, they could make an immediate impact on raising the overall quality of the local operators, thus improving other markers like employment terms and environmental practices.

Sadly, Local 813 and its environmental partners want none of this. But we don’t have to wait with them to improve the lives of the people picking up our commercial waste. We can act quickly to empower the agencies already in place to begin tackling these issues.

Mike Hellstrom

Business manager

Laborers Local 108