Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

Source: Kiera Feldman, ProPublica, January 4, 2018
 
Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.  Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. … In the universe of New York’s garbage industry, Action is considered a company that takes the high road. A union shop, it offers starting pay of about $16 per hour for helpers and $23 for drivers, far more than many other companies. And unlike some other companies, Action provides high-visibility gear and conducts safety meetings. But since 2008, the company’s trucks have killed five pedestrians or cyclists.  In New York City overall, private sanitation trucks killed seven people in 2017. By contrast, city municipal sanitation trucks haven’t caused a fatality since 2014. …

Related:

Commercial trash workers testify against conditions
Source: David Giambusso, Capital New York, April 30, 2015

During a City Council debate Wednesday over free enterprise and recycling diversion rates in New York’s private carting industry, members of the sanitation committee heard from a group of stakeholders who rarely voice concerns about the industry publicly: workers in the private trash trade. “When you only earn minimum wage and are working 60 hours a week in the bitter cold snow and ice—I feel like I am being taken advantage of,” said Carlton Darden, who works for the private hauler Five Star Carting, in testimony to the Council. “I feel as if I’m a slave,” testified Michael Bush, another Five Star employee. “I feel used and degraded. I feel as if I’m nobody, but this job is a real responsibility to keep the streets of New York City clean.” Juan Feliz testified that he was fired from Mr. T Carting after contracting cancer—a condition he attributes to chemicals and debris he was exposed to on the job….. Workers testified that they can make 300 stops a night throughout the city during 16-hour shifts, leading to poor recycling rates and safety hazards for residents and workers alike. They said some companies pay workers as little as $8.75 an hour to pick up 20,000 pounds of trash per night, per worker. Workers are expected to provide their own gloves, boots and reflective gear and receive little or no training at some companies, the men testified. …

High-Class Trash /Why it costs so much to haul garbage in New York—at least when the Department of Sanitation is doing it
Source: Matthew Hennessey, City Journal, 15 July 2014 [editor’s note: City Journal is published by the Manhattan Institute]

….Less often thought of as a uniformed workforce, however, are the Big Apple’s 7,200 sanitation workers, who have been without a contract since 2011. The last contract negotiated by the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831 resulted in a 17 percent raise over 54 months for workers. But according to a May report by the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), the bill for collecting and disposing of New York’s trash is already much higher than in other large American cities. Can Gotham really afford to pay more?

With a population of 8.3 million and the second-largest urban economy in the world, New York City produces lots of garbage—about 8 million tons annually—but the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for hauling only half of it. The rest is handled by roughly 250 private hauling firms, which contract with local businesses to remove commercial waste. The CBC calculates that the sanitation department spends $431 per ton to collect and dispose of garbage, while the city’s private haulers do it for just $183 per ton. How do private waste-hauling firms, which are both unionized and heavily regulated, manage to pick up and dispose of trash so much more efficiently than the sanitation department?

For starters, the private firms do a better job on the disposal side than the city does. The DSNY sends just 14 percent of the waste it collects to recycling plants, which pay for the materials they receive—up to $25 per ton for paper recyclables, depending on market variations—with most of the rest going to landfills (a small amount gets converted into energy). Private haulers, by contrast, send 63 percent of what they collect to recycling plants, lowering their disposal costs considerably.

The real difference between the public- and private-sector trash haulers, however, shows up on the collection side—specifically, how much those who do the collecting get paid. City sanitation workers benefit from incentives such as “productivity” bonuses and shift-differential payments, which are rarely offered to their counterparts in the private workforce, and they get substantially more paid days off, including unlimited sick days, the CBC report found. The benefits add up. In 2012, the average DSNY employee earned 39 percent more than the average worker at a private trash-hauling firm in the city. Total compensation for a first-year DSNY employee—including overtime, holiday pay, health insurance, and retirement benefits—tops out at over $100,000. A city sanitation worker with more than 20 years on the job earns almost $170,000 in total compensation. The DSNY’s highest-paid employee in 2013 took home $219,233, more even than then-commissioner John Doherty…..