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Recycling Workers Join Teamsters in Union Vote

Workers join thousands of NYC Teamsters in the sanitation industry
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BROOKLYN, NY – Sims Municipal Recycling workers in Sunset Park voted to join Teamsters Local 210 in an election today overseen by an independent arbitrator. The vote caps an eight-month organizing drive by workers at the recycling facility, which processes all of the city’s residential recycling. An agreement reached Thursday between the union and company averted a strike and gave workers an immediate union vote, free of employer interference. The tally was 46 votes in favor of unionizing and 20 votes against. 

“It feels so good to say that we are Teamsters,” said Jordy Lopez, a Sims worker and union leader. “We are thankful for the support we have received from the community and government officials. We fought so hard, but now it is a new day at Sims. We will move forward together to bargain a contract that guarantees fairness and respect for every worker.”

“We are proud to count Sims’ Brooklyn workers as Teamsters,” said George Miranda, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 210. “Our union is working with the environmental justice movement to transform New York’s sanitation industry to protect workers and communities. This victory at Sims is one step in that larger fight. I thank all of our elected officials and the labor movement for standing behind these workers in their campaign for justice.”

“Congratulations to the workers at Sims for voting to join Teamsters Local 210, and for their tireless organizing to get to this point. My administration believes deeply in the right of workers to unionize and collectively bargain. I look forward to continued cooperation and collaboration between Sims and the Teamsters,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

Next, the workers will develop their contract demands and, with union negotiators, will begin negotiations with Sims management on a collective bargaining agreement. The union also plans to set up an interim grievance procedure to protect workers in any disciplinary action. “As of today, Sims workers are not at-will employees,” said Miranda.

The Brooklyn facility processes all of the residential recycling collected by the New York City Department of Sanitation. Workers informed company management in December that a majority had signed union authorization cards with Teamsters Local 210, but the company refused to bargain a contract. The workers have since filed unfair labor practice charges at the National Labor Relations Board alleging a union-busting campaign by management that included threats and retaliation against union supporters.

The City Council held a hearing on growing labor conflict Tuesday.

“When we stand up for the rights of immigrants and workers we build a stronger and more equitable city,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, whose Brooklyn district includes the facility. “I want to congratulate the workers for their successful union vote at Sunset Park’s Sims recycling facility today. As I witnessed their vote to organize as Teamsters, I saw a victory for the workers and for New York City. Soon, the 70 Sims workers who conduct our essential waste recycling and transfer services will have the representation and protections they deserve.”

"We are committed to a sanitation industry that respects our neighborhoods and workers, while accomplishing our urgent sustainability goals," said City Council Sanitation Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso. "I congratulate Sims workers on this outcome and urge the entire industry to follow Sims' lead and give workers a voice on the job, free of intimidation." 

“Sanitation is a dangerous job and I am glad to now have the protection of a union,” said José Lopez, a Sims worker and union leader. Most Sims workers are immigrants. “I know there are many other workers out there who don't have a union and don't have a voice at work. Do what we did and organize to protect yourselves and your families.”

The union and the company reached the expedited election and neutrality agreement Thursday. The agreement set a next-day election and required that the company remain neutral. A traditional union election would have taken weeks and the company would have been able to campaign against the union.

The agreement also granted union organizers access to the facility and protected workers’ rights to wear union stickers. If the company had violated any provisions or engaged in union-busting, the independent arbitrator was empowered to take immediate action. Normally, workers must seek relief at the National Labor Relations Board, a process that can take months or longer.

“This is a big win for New York's private sanitation workers,” said Brigid Flaherty, Organizing Director of ALIGN. “Our city expects sanitation companies to meet our goals for both good jobs and sustainable practices and this union vote can serve as a model for protecting the workers who protect our environment.”

The Teamsters Union and its many New York City locals represent thousands of sanitation workers at the New York City Department of Sanitation, private carting companies, and at waste and recycling facilities. The union and its allies in the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition are working to raise standards throughout New York’s sanitation industry, both for workers and the communities they operate in.

“We are proud to see this victory for our friends in labor,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “The people of color and immigrants who work in the recycling industry are also a part of our communities, and deserve the protections that a strong union affords them.”

“A sustainable city is one where environmental progress and economic justice move forward together.  Today’s vote should help insure that the green jobs that Sims has created will also be good jobs for its dedicated work force,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NYC Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Workers’ rights, community health, and zero waste are three pillars of a sustainable and equitable solid waste management system,” said Rachel Spector, Director of Environmental Justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Today, Sims workers took an important step to ensure that waste industry jobs are high-quality green jobs, and that their voices will be respected and valued as our city moves toward zero waste.  Sims Municipal Recycling, the Teamsters, and DSNY have demonstrated that high employment and environmental standards can and should co-exist in the New York City waste and recycling industry.”

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