(WASHINGTON) – On Tuesday, Teamsters testified at the St. Louis Tribunal that is investigating human rights violations against communities surrounding Republic Services’ West Lake Superfund landfill site in Bridgeton, Mo. The tribunal will report to the United Nations Human Rights and Environment Program.
An underground fire has been raging for five years at the West Lake complex, which contains thousands of tons of illegally-dumped radioactive nuclear wastes in an unlined landfill. The subsurface fire is moving closer to the nuclear waste and is releasing toxic chemicals that residents and workers can smell for miles. The landfill complex is owned by the second-largest landfill company in the United States, Republic Services [NYSE: RSG].
Eighteen witnesses testified to a jury composed of leading civic and religious figures, led by Lois Gibbs of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Witnesses detailed their many health problems, including, deaths among family, friends and neighbors; disruptions to their daily routines; sharp drops in home values; and the inability to enjoy the outdoors and their homes.
Teamster members and other union workers from the warehouse sector and other businesses surrounding the landfill also testified at the tribunal.
Steve Johnson of Teamsters Local 688 in St. Louis testified on behalf of Marvin Kropp, President of Teamsters Joint Council 13. Johnson addressed how Teamsters and other workers are affected both on and off the job, as many reside and work at or near the landfill.
“For too long, our rights to a safe and clean environment at work and at home have been trampled by indifference from our government and the heavy-handed tactics of the corporations that have operated the site. Going forward, we need to protect residents and workers at the landfill and surrounding workplaces. We demand respect, and that our concerns about the safety and health of our families and ourselves be heard,” Johnson said.
“We demand that Republic Services and its biggest shareholder, billionaire Bill Gates, be held accountable. Instead of paying lobbyists to keep us trapped, we ask that Republic Services become part of the solution. We demand that our government put its full weight behind our communities—its constituents—and ask that the United Nations monitor a successful resolution to this environmental and social crisis,” Johnson said.
“It is fitting that this tribunal was held just before Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day. This day celebrates the universal human rights that all people are entitled to, including security, health and well-being for themselves and their families, and the right of workers to form a union,” said Chuck Stiles, Assistant Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling and Related Industries Division. “Republic Services is violating the rights of residents and workers at and near the West Lake landfill.”
Stiles said Republic’s Bridgeton landfill workers face a daunting challenge, especially since they lack a union and are left without a means to voice concerns without fear of retaliation. They also lack the means to bargain for upgraded health and safety education, worker protection and adequate provision of health insurance.
In the tribunal’s preliminary findings, the jury found that several human rights violations have been substantiated, including violations against the right to life, to health, to property and to freedom of movement. The jury included a special note concerning the violations of workers’ rights.
The preliminary recommendations of the panel of jurors were:
1. The landfill complex owners must provide immediate permanent relocation to anyone within one mile of the site who wants to move;
2. The landfill complex owners must provide the opportunity for homeowners living within five miles of the site to move within five years or until the site is cleaned up; and
3. Congress must authorize the Army Corps of Engineers’ FUSRAP program to take over the site.
The jurors will receive additional complaints from the public through Dec. 31, and will then prepare a special report to UN Special Rapporteur John Knox of the United Nations Human Rights and Environment Program.
Any worker or resident affected may provide a one-to-four page testimonial about the violations of their human rights connected to exposure to the West Lake/Bridgeton landfill. Please forward such testimony to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.