Immigrant Recycling Workers Win Strike, Union Drive in East Bay

SAN LEANDRO, CA—Within days of each other last week, two groups of Northern California recycling workers declared they’d had enough of what they see as regimes of indignity and discrimination. One group voted to unionize, and another, already union members, walked out on strike.

“They think we’re insignificant people,” declares striker Dinora Jordan. “They don’t think we count and don’t value our work. But we’re the ones who find dead animals on the conveyor belts. All the time we have to watch for hypodermic needles. If they don’t learn to respect us now, they never will.”

Jordan’s employer is Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), a giant corporation that handles garbage and recycling throughout North America. In just the second quarter of 2014 WMI generated $3.56 billion in revenue and $210 million in profit, “an improvement in both our net cash provided by operations and our free cash flow,” according to CEO David P. Steiner.

Shareholders received a 35 cent per share quarterly dividend, and the company used $600 million of its cash in a massive share buyback program. Two years ago Steiner himself was given 135,509 shares (worth $6.5 million) in a performance bonus, to add to the pile he already owns.

But at its San Leandro, California, facility, WMI had been unwilling to settle a new contract with Jordan’s union, Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, for three years.

Last week, she and members of the negotiating committee returned to the facility after another fruitless session. They called workers together to offer a report on the progress in bargaining—standard practice in Local 6.

One supervisor agreed to the shop floor meeting, but another would not. The workers met anyway. Then the second supervisor told the vast majority of the workers except a handful needed to continue running the facility to clock out and go home—a disciplinary measure that would at least dock the rest of the day’s pay.

 

Read the rest of the article at In These Times

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