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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

On May Day in LA, Waste Workers Proclaim "We are Not Garbage! We are People!"

by Caroline O'Connor, LA County Federation of Labor

On May Day in L.A., waste haulers and sorters at American Reclamation were joined by more than 500 Teamsters and union members from across L.A. Labor, from teachers and grocery workers to carwash workers and film crews in support of their efforts to form a union. American Reclamation treats is workers worse than the garbage they work with, paying poverty wages with no benefits, exposing employees to health and safety hazards on a regular basis and firing workers who filed a safety complaint with Cal/OSHA.

Karla Campos was fired by American Reclamation after she and some of her co-workers filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA.

When we were hurt, cut by a sharp object we handled on the line or pricked by a dirty needle we didn’t see, we weren’t given proper first aid. Sometimes we bandaged wounds with pieces of paper or material from the trash, and we were told to get back on the line as we bled.

Margarita Castro, a waste sorter at American Reclamation, addressed the May Day crowd, telling them about the deplorable and dangerous working conditions at American Reclamation.  She also said that some workers have been there for 20 years and are still making minimum wage.

Recently announced 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dolores Huerta joined the protest. When talking about receiving the Medal of Freedom, Dolores Huerta stated boldly, "Freedom means workers must be free to organize." She also talked about how bosses and CEOs have their own associations they belong to that represent their interests. They pay dues, so it is only fair that workers also have the the same rights to have unions.

Los Angeles City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, L.A. Labor’s Maria Elena Durazo, President of Teamsters Joint Council 42 Randy Cammack and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 396 Ron Herrera also spoke out in support of the waste workers right outside American Reclamation's front door.

Maria Elena Durazo, leader of the Los Angeles labor movement:

Today a new generation of immigrant workers have revitalized and brought May Day back to life.  Today is about immigrant rights. It is about a worker’s right to safe working conditions. It is about eliminating poverty for men and women who work hard every day. Today is about raising the standard of living for all workers. No worker deserves to be treated as less than human. Today-- is about what kind of country we want to be.

Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters Local 396:

Teamsters are here to fight the war against waste workers and we demand that all workers be treated with dignity and respect. We’re here to show American Reclamation and the entire City of Los Angeles that we won’t tolerate exploitation of any workers, including an immigrant workforce.

Randy Cammack, President of the Teamsters Joint Council 42:

We’re joined here by community groups and elected officials who know that waste workers are the eyes and ears of the community when it comes to the range of harmful impact this industry can have. Waste workers are our first line of defense against the harms that companies like American Reclamation can bring -- because when you put workers at risk in a dirty facility and dangerous trucks, you’re putting communities at risk, too. We breathe the same air and drive on the same roads with those dirty, dangerous trucks.

The May Day protest included the premiere of “Workers are not Garbage” a new video by Brave New Foundation’s Cuentame about the dangerous and even deadly working condition inside Southern California’s waste and recycling industry. NYC-based Outernational played live from their new album “Todos Somos Ilegales/We are all Illegals.”


Posted on 05/04/2012Permalink

More posts by Caroline O’Connor

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