NEW YORK, NY – A new report released today reveals commercial waste work is among New York City’s most dangerous jobs. The report, Dirty and Dangerous, by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), found that non-union commercial waste companies routinely violate legal requirements with impunity, with high rates of preventable injuries and fatalities. NYCOSH was joined by allies in the labor and environmental movements for the release of the report at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. The report can be downloaded at: bit.ly/dirtyanddangerous
Charlene Obernauer, NYCOSH Executive Director stated, “Too many workers are getting injured or killed in the commercial waste industry as egregious violators disregard workplace safety. New York City needs to ensure that employers are held accountable to the law and get creative about solutions to keeping these workers—who are primarily people of color—safe.”
While New York City’s residential trash is collected by City workers, businesses must contract with these commercial waste companies for their garbage removal.
The report includes eight case studies of recent worker fatalities, chemical exposures, and amputations in New York City’s commercial waste sector. In each of these cases, the employer failed to eliminate or reduce the hazardous conditions that caused these workers’ deaths or injuries. Sanitation workers are ten times more likely to be killed on the job than the average worker.
Sidney Marthone, private sanitation worker, said, “We are in danger every day. We don’t get the safety equipment or training we need and are sent out on broken trucks. I lost part of my finger on a damaged dumpster and the company played games with me so I wouldn’t get the workers comp I needed. Now I can’t pay my bills. I hope the government listens and protects us workers.”
From interviews with workers, surveys of workers, and review of government statistics and media reports, NYCOSH found a pattern of unsafe workplaces and inadequate oversight, with workers bearing the consequences.
While city government has had success removing organized crime from the commercial waste industry in recent years, wages and working conditions have deteriorated. The NYCOSH report recommends that the City take action to make these jobs safer and protect workers, and lays out numerous actions that can be taken to safeguard worker health and safety.
NYCOSH’s allies and New York City Council Members added vital support to the call to protect workers:
Sean Campbell, President, Teamsters Local 813: “Private sanitation workers are putting their lives on the line every day, but it doesn’t have to be this way. This report shows that some companies are repeatedly shirking their responsibilities and endangering workers. Their behavior undermines the good companies and forces a race to the bottom. It is time for City Hall to step in and remake this industry so that workers don’t have to risk life and limb to keep our streets clean.”
Brigid Flaherty, Organizing Director, ALIGN: “Workers in the private sanitation industry are predominantly African American and Latino. Their hard work keeps our streets clean and our communities healthy and yet every day these workers face rampant wage theft and unsafe working conditions. We must understand that the fight to improve job standards for workers in the private sanitation industry is both a racial and an economic justice issue. In demanding dignity, fair pay and a safer workplace, we see the struggle for racial and economic justice converge.”
Patrick Purcell, Executive Director, Laborers and Employers Trust Fund: “The safety of working people in New York City must become a policy priority and health and safety of commercial waste workers cannot continue to take a backseat to corporate profits. Employers must have prevention plans and ensure that each worker is able to return home at the end of the day rather than end up in a hospital or morgue.”
Members of the City Council joined today’s event to give their support to raising standards in private sanitation.
NYC Council Member I. Daneek Miller: “For too long, Southeast Queens has been one of a very few communities responsible for the waste transfer industry in our City. It has caused health, safety and traffic concerns for residents, while there has been very little oversight for this industry. Not only do we need to ensure the entire City takes responsibility for a fair share of their waste, but as we see in the report outlined by NYCOSH, we need to make sure the people in this industry are paid a living wage and can conduct their work safely. Thank you to my fellow Council Members and advocates here today for standing up for Waste Equity.”
NYC Council Member Brad Lander: “Every day, the city’s commercial waste workers are put into harm’s way because their employers fail to implement basic safety measures. Commercial waste operators, like all employers, need to be held accountable for their non-compliance with OSHA standards, wage and hour laws that are designed to protect workers.”
NYC Council Member Antonio Reynoso: “NYCOSH’s report is more evidence that the commercial waste industry must be reformed. The awful working conditions that they documented are unacceptable. Private sanitation work is dangerous by nature, so employers should be held to the highest standards for employee health and safety. We can and must do better.”