(CAMBRIDGE, UK) – Two members of the Teamsters Union, which represents U.S. refuse collectors at Republic Services, America’s second-largest rubbish disposal corporation, protested Microsoft founder Bill Gates at the Cambridge Union Society yesterday. They were joined by supporters from Unite the Union, which represents refuse collectors in Cambridge and across Great Britain.
The Teamsters Union and Unite the Union representatives denounced both Bill Gates and the Cambridge Union Society for giving Bill Gates its annual Professor Hawking Fellowship. American refuse collectors in Massachusetts, members of Teamsters Local 25, have been on strike against Republic Services for over a month. Bill Gates is the largest single owner of Republic Services stock, and in addition, Gates’ personal investment manager sits on Republic Service’s Board of Directors.
The protestors held banners and distributed leaflets that said “Bill Gates Treats Hawking’s Legacy Like Rubbish.”
Bernie Egan-Mullen, a member of Teamsters Local 25 in Massachusetts, said, “Bill Gates could direct Republic to stop abusing us, but so far he has turned his back toward us. We have been on strike since late August, after the company refused to agree to a contract with a livable wage and affordable health insurance. Professor Hawking was an outspoken advocate of the National Health Service, and I’m guessing he would be shocked at how much we have to pay for health care. Meanwhile we are paid, on average, 40 percent below what it takes to make a living wage for a family with one adult and one child.”
When he was alive, Stephen Hawking was a longtime champion of the UK’s National Health Service. There is no NHS in America, and many residents rely on their employers to provide health insurance. Companies like Republic Services can require employees to pay a large proportion of their insurance and health care costs.
“We went on strike last month because Republic violated U.S. labor laws that protect workers’ rights,” said Demetrius Tart, a member of Teamsters Local 728 in Georgia. “Many Republic Services workers have gone on strike over the past few years because this corporation constantly breaks the law. Republic workers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public health. We came to Cambridge to spread message that sanitation workers in America have the 5th most deadly job and Bill Gates made $100 million in Republic stock dividends last year while their workers were forced to decide between paying for their family’s health care or putting food on the table.”
Republic Services posted $10 billion in revenues and over $1 billion in profit in 2018. Bill Gates, as Republic’s principal shareholder, receives over $100 million in stock dividends annually.
“Bill Gates claims to care about wealth inequality, but actions speak louder than words,” said Sean O’Brien, President of Teamsters Local 25 and Teamsters International Vice President. “That’s why it’s outrageous that the Cambridge Union Society would award him a fellowship in Professor Stephen Hawking’s name. Hawking spoke passionately about ending inequality, and I doubt he would be happy that an award in his name is going to someone who is making hundreds of millions of dollars off of rubbish collectors being underpaid and their collective bargaining rights being trampled on. These workers in Massachusetts voted for a union a year ago, and yet they still have no contract. Bill Gates’ hypocrisy is unconscionable, and that’s why we’re here today, to call him out on it.”
O’Brien continued, “Our members in Massachusetts have extended their picket line to a dozen other Republic Services facilities, where hundreds of fellow Republic employees have honored their picket lines and refused to cross. They have extended the picket line to Seattle, where Bill Gates lives, as well as to San Diego, Anaheim, San Jose, Huntington Beach and several other California locations.”
This is not the first sanitation-related protest that Bill Gates has been on the receiving end of. Just last month, protesters spoke out at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual awards ceremony, when the Gates Foundation gave an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “Clean India” sanitation project. Many have criticized Modi for his authoritarian and violent tactics against Indians in order to claim a high success rate for the program. A Gates Foundation employee even resigned in protest, noting the hypocrisy of Bill Gates claiming to value all lives on one hand, while awarding a politician who terrorizes marginalized communities on the other.