UPDATE (March 2): Teamsters Local 210 has signed an agreement with Sims Municipal Recycling to hold an election on March 3. Sims has pledged to remain neutral during the process and the agreement will be enforced by an independent arbitrator.
This announcement comes on the same day as the following tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio:
Our city believes in organizing rights. I call on Sims Metal Management to resolve its dispute with workers fairly and quickly.— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) March 2, 2017
Both Sims and DSNY have expressed support for an election, though the Teamsters had previously called for a contract to be bargained based on signed union authorization cards. This agreement appears to represent a compromise that could lead to unionization if previously reported levels of support hold tomorrow.
UPDATE (March 1): During a lengthy hearing on Feb. 28, the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) made it clear that a potential strike at the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn would not affect the city's diversion operations.
"Anything that’s going to disrupt the ability of a Sanitation truck to arrive at a Sims facility and tip its material is prohibited under the contract," said Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
Sims is expected to receive recyclables from DSNY 24 hours per day, Monday through Saturday, and during declared emergencies on Sundays. The facility processes all of the city's residential metal, glass and plastic and about half of its paper. If Sims is unable to accept this material during the expected hours they will be liable for penalties of $100-$300 per truck turned away and also have to cover the expenses of tipping at another facility. This could add up quickly and still pose logistical challenges due to staffing.
Wearing a Teamsters shirt, Garcia said the city fully supports the workers' right to unionize and encouraged them to take a vote. Tom Outerbridge, general manager of Sims Municipal Recycling, said his company also supports the workers' rights to unionize. All of the other Sims facilities in the New York and New Jersey region are unionized.
Despite this seeming agreement, council members had many questions on when Sims notified DSNY of a potential strike, why workers had filed complaints to the National Labor Relations Board and the method through which unionization might occur.
A group of workers also offered testimony about issues they've faced on the job, including lack of access to affordable healthcare and alleged retaliation against their organizing efforts. An estimated 70% of the facility's workforce has signed union authorization cards, which they want Sims to recognize. Sims said it prefers an official vote to allow all workers the opportunity to make a decision. Whether disagreement over the method of unionization is enough to merit a strike remains to be seen.
- Many of the 70 workers at the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn say their efforts to become members of Teamsters Local 210 have been rebuffed by management, as reported by the New York Daily News.
- Workers say that unsuccessful efforts to negotiate a contract were met with various forms of retaliation and offers of better benefits if workers did not unionize. This has resulted in a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.
- The New York City Council's sanitation committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue for Feb. 28. Workers and advocates plan to hold a rally outside of the hearing beforehand.
This Sims MRF processes the vast majority of residential recyclables collected by the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and is integral to New York's 2030 "zero waste" goal. Their $110 million single-stream facility, which opened in 2013, processes up to 1,000 tons of material per day under a 20-year contract with the city. DSNY has made it clear that operations are expected to continue regardless of the labor situation.
The employees that collect residential waste for DSNY are Teamsters Local 831 members, but many workers in the city's larger private waste industry are not unionized. Of those that are it's unknown how many are members of the various unions. Teamsters Joint Council 16 has been a driving force in efforts to implement a commercial waste franchising system in the city, which could help expand its ranks in the process.
In recent years waste industry workers have gone on strike over healthcare, pay, labor laws and much more. While a potential strike or labor shortage at Sims wouldn't lead to waste piling up on the streets as seen in Paris last summer, it could still be very disruptive to New York's high-volume recycling operation.