Over 200 Oakland recycling workers staged a powerful show of unity and action by striking on Tuesday, July 30. Employees from the city’s two recycling contractors – Waste Management and California Waste Solutions (CWS) – walked off their jobs midway through the morning shift.
Then, instead of picketing in remote industrial areas where the recycling plants are located, workers formed caravans that converged downtown at Oakland’s City Hall. The result was a full day of political action and solidarity that included marches, “human billboards” along Broadway and 14th Street, visits with local and state elected officials, and a spirited rally. The day ended where rally participants – including many community allies – filled the upper seats of the City Council chambers and addressed the City Council that evening.
Recycling worker Emanuel San Gabriel is one of CWS workers who left his dusty and noisy workplace behind to join the protest.
There’s a growing impatience amongst those committed to pushing L.A. to meet its ambitious Zero Waste goals. For years, the Don’t Waste LA Coalition, which includes Sierra Club, Coalition for Clean Air, Sustain L.A. and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has been pushing to address the large portion of trash that goes to landfills from businesses and large apartment buildings. Addressing this sector will be a game changer for L.A. And after an arduous process with a multitude of hearings, workshops, and meetings, we’re ready to move forward.
Right now, the open permit system that handles waste from businesses and large apartment buildings has failed us. Its bottom barrel competition has left us with a measly 19 percent diversion rate for businesses in L.A. And, despite the best effort from business lobbyists to defend this type of program, we’ve seen a lack of effort to live up to the environmental stewardship demanded in a city like Los Angeles.
The best measure of progress is often the desperation of its opponents. So if there were any doubt about the significance of Wednesday’s L.A. City Council vote to transform the city’s multi-family and commercial waste and recycling system, the shrillness of those in the minority offered final proof.
“This is the day justice and democracy died,” declared one detractor. He was outdone, however, by a fellow naysayer, who, invoking the ghosts of Stalinist Russia, bellowed, “Vote straight communist – the life you save will be your own. That’s what’s happening here today.”
Aside from the minions of big business interests following in lockstep with the Chamber of Commerce, there were few traces of authoritarian rule at City Hall yesterday when the Council made its decision to jettison a system that has failed almost everybody. Indeed, democracy seemed alive and well, with an overflow crowd both participating in and witnessing an epic exercise in self-government.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve blogged about waste reform in the City of Los Angeles. Following is a summary of where we are with the proposed waste reform so folks just tuning in, and those who have followed the twists and turns, have one central place for background as our the city council takes up this important issue in the coming weeks.
Disposal of waste is perhaps one of the most pressing environmental issues the City of Los Angeles faces. Los Angeles sends approximately three million tons of trash per year to landfills. This practice exacts a large environmental toll. The City has already promised to become a zero waste City by 2030. This entails interim goals of achieving 70 percent diversion from landfills by 2013 and 90 percent by 2025.
L.A.’s commercial and multi-family sectors are responsible for approximately 70 percent of the waste the City of Los Angeles send to landfills,
After a 4½ hour hearing, including strong testimony from members of the Don’t Waste LA coalition, the L.A. City Energy & Environment Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee on Waste Reduction & Recycling unanimously approved pushing a policy framework for an exclusive franchise system with strong standards. Yesterday, I posted the testimony I provided at the hearing.
This is a big moment for L.A. waste policy because at the conclusion of the hearing, these committee members determined that an exclusive franchise model has the best likelihood of success to achieve environmental objectives. Despite claims otherwise, after careful deliberation, the committees decided that they want to create a national model for sustainability in the waste collection for multi-family and commercial properties.
Overall, I was happy these council members were not duped by proposals of opponents of strong reform who promised benefits overnight.
Negotiations between workers and the Waste Management company have reached an absolute standstill, with hundreds of trash and recycling workers striking and the sanitation giant refusing to negotiate with picketing workers.
Waste Management employees, represented by Teamsters Local 117, walked off the job last Wednesday after working without a contract since May 31. Waste Management is proposing a contract that pays recycling workers less than garbage haulers, despite the similarity between the jobs. Tellingly, Waste Management has historically taken an oppositional stance to organized labor, and seemed to be priming for a lock-out in June. After the contract expired, Waste Management held a job fair for replacement (scab) workers, and increased security at its Puget Sound headquarters. Alas, the replacement workers have not managed to keep up with the overflowing garbage and recycling heaps in Puget Sound.