Politico And City Limits Highlight Our Ongoing Efforts To Reform NYC Waste Industry

May 1, 2019

Environmental Justice, Media Coverage, News, Transform Don't Trash NYC

NYLPI’s continuing waste industry reform work as part of the Transform Don’t Trash coalition has drawn increased media focus, with Politico reporter Danielle Muoio quoting our Director of Strategic Organizing and Research, Justin Wood, in this story about the industry’s very slow compliance with a 2013 law mandating trucks to meet federal emissions requirements:

“As of early January, some of the numbers in terms of complying with this very low bar were very different from what we just heard from the industry panel, to be frank,” said Justin Wood, director of organizing and strategic research for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We look at the 25 companies that make payments to New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management … it was less than 50 percent compliance in that fleet as of a few months ago.”

The full Politico article is below. Likewise, City Limits published an op ed by Antony Carmona, one of the waste workers featured in our recent Just Jobs for Waste Workers report. It’s reproduced below.

Private waste haulers slow to comply with mandated emission cuts

By Danielle Muoio

04/30/2019 05:35 PM EDT

Private waste haulers have been slow to comply with a 2013 law that mandates trucks meet 2007 federal emissions requirements, but Council Member Antonio Reynoso said the law doesn’t go far enough as is.

“The truth is, though, that 2007 standards are not good enough for 2020,” Reynoso said at a City Council hearing on Tuesday. “This is hardly an achievement when one considers [Department of Sanitation] trucks are 4 years old on average. We need to be bold on reducing greenhouse gas emissions significantly.”

The 2013 law, signed by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, mandates that private waste haulers either retrofit truck engines to comply with 2007 federal emission standards, or replace the engines with ones from 2007 or later, by 2020. The law was part of a larger effort by the Bloomberg administration to improve air quality in the city.

Roughly 6,100 trucks must comply with the law — a number that includes trucks that collect garbage and debris from construction sites, city officials said Tuesday. But nearly six years after the law was signed, only 62 percent of trucks meet the required emission standards.

“This law was passed in late 2013 — its requirements are not something new,” said Noah Genel, commissioner of the Business Integrity Commission, which regulates the private waste industry. “All trade waste companies should be prepared for this effective date.”

The slow progress draws attention to flaws with the original legislation, which gave ample amount of time to comply with a now-outdated emissions standard, Reynoso said.

“The legislation itself, I think, was written poorly in 2013 and gave carters an out, a significant amount of time, to get it right — and then when they get it right, to standards that right now we wouldn’t even be considering,” Reynoso said. “This is lightweight at this point, insignificant to some degree.”

BIC has taken steps to ensure the industry is aware of its obligations, including holding hearings and issuing directives to waste haulers, Genel said. Companies that don’t make the changes by Jan. 1, 2020 are subject to administrative violations up to $10,000 or the loss of their operating license.

“If you have a noncompliant truck, keep it off the streets,” Genel said. “If you use it, you’re jeopardizing your entire business.”

Representatives for waste haulers defended the companies’ efforts to comply with the law.

A lobbyist for private garbage and recycling companies said the companies are nearing compliance, referring to a “recent” survey he sent to the 30 top private waste haulers — in which between 15 to 20 companies responded — and found that 85 percent of their trucks meet the new emission standards.

“The law effectively accelerated the transition in fleet age by probably 60 percent, 70 percent, something on that order, beyond what ordinarily might have been done in the industry,” said Kendall Christiansen, executive director of New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, a lobbying group for trash haulers.

Critics of the private waste industry pushed back on Christiansen’s assertion, referring to data that BIC posted in a public database at the start of this year.

“As of early January, some of the numbers in terms of complying with this very low bar were very different from what we just heard from the industry panel, to be frank,” said Justin Wood, director of organizing and strategic research for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We look at the 25 companies that make payments to New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management … it was less than 50 percent compliance in that fleet as of a few months ago.”

A representative for construction truck companies said many members can’t financially comply with the law and said BIC didn’t adequately engage the industry on how to apply for a waiver.

“I think BIC just thinks these small business owners will replace all this older equipment with trucks that cost over $200,000 per vehicle,” said Patrick Hyland, executive director of the New York Metropolitan Trucking Association, a trade group for construction truck companies. “I’m here today to provide a reality check, they are not in financial position to do so and cannot do so.”

Under the law, companies were able to apply for a hardship waiver that would grant them an additional two years to comply with the requirements. BIC said it received a total of 83 hardship waivers and only granted 25.

Reynoso said BIC set strict parameters to qualify for a hardship waiver due to the length of time the industry had to comply, adding it’s difficult to address issues with the waiver process at this point in the process.

“It’s very hard for us last-minute to find ways to be helpful,” Reynoso said.

Environmental advocates said the law isn’t difficult to comply with and that the city should be holding the industry to a higher standard.

“New York can and must do better,” said Adriana Espinoza, the New York City program director for the New York League of Conservation Voters. “The industry has had years to plan ahead for this law to take effect and we need to take further steps to improve air quality, not simply provide waivers for obligations that have been on the books for many years.”

Here’s the City Limits op-ed (also on their website):

Opinion: NYC Must Keep Workers in Mind as it Revamps Commercial-Waste System

By Anthony Carmona

I started working in private sanitation five years ago. Little did I know that this is one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs there is.

In New York City, all commercial waste is picked up by private carters, unlike residential waste which is picked up by the Department of Sanitation. There are over 90 private carters in the city, driving all over the five boroughs every night, picking up trash everywhere from the corner bodega to the Empire State Building.

I worked for a company in Brooklyn called Viking Sanitation as a “helper,” the people who ride on the back of the truck and grab the trash at each stop. Every night, we picked up trash all over the borough – Avenue U and Bay Parkway, then up to Fulton Street, downtown Brooklyn, and after that we’d go to Bay Ridge and finish up there. On a busy night we would make upwards of 300 stops and pick up 30-35 tons of trash.

Viking paid $120 per shift. Some companies pay even less. Because we got paid a flat rate we worked as fast as we could, killing our bodies and endangering everyone else on the road in the process. I had to hold on for dear life so I wouldn’t get thrown off the truck. My co-worker lost his grasp once and fell off the moving truck into the street. He ended up in the hospital with an arm injury, but was back at work for his next shift. None of us had health insurance. I was given no safety equipment to do the job. No boots, no gloves, no uniform. Nothing.

There’s all kinds of stuff in the trash. A lot of companies don’t recycle, so I’d be getting my legs cut up with broken bottles. We even had to pick up medical waste at an old age home – my co-worker saw a syringe in the trash. It’s illegal for these companies to pick up hazardous waste, but they do it anyway.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We know that companies with unions have better working conditions. Some cities have even re-organized the whole system so that commercial waste is collected by zone, meaning one carter will cover a certain area, instead of having trucks driving all over the city. The City Council is about to consider a bill to do the same thing here, and if they do it right, the policy can really help protect those of us on the trucks.

We tried changing things on our own at Viking by starting a union. When the boss found out, he started calling the workers one by one into his office, bribing us with a little extra money so that we wouldn’t vote in the Teamsters. A lot of people got scared. I kept supporting the union and the boss reduced my hours in retaliation.

Lucky for me, the Teamsters were able to get me a job at a union sanitation company. I make $24 an hour and I work eight hours a night. They give me everything I need to do my job. I have good healthcare and a retirement plan. I can take time off when I am sick. It’s the first job where I ever got to take a vacation.

Above all, I am treated with respect, like a human being. Every sanitation worker in New York City deserves to be treated like this.

When the City Council passes the commercial waste zone bill, they should put the interests of workers first. If there is only one carter in every zone, we won’t have to race between stops. They should require that every company pay a fair wage and provide safety equipment and training, and protect whistleblowers so we can stand up for our rights and keep our jobs. When it comes to hiring for these newly good jobs, they should prioritize the black and brown communities who have been risking our lives for years in this industry.

Give the workers who pick up your trash every night the respect they deserve.

Anthony Carmona is a private sanitation worker at Waste Connections in the Bronx.


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