You are here

recycling workers

For a Just Transition under the Plastic Treaty

By staff - International Alliance of Waste Pickers, November 13, 2023

The IAWP position paper outlines the essential steps that need to be taken to ensure that the transition to a circular economy for plastics is fair and inclusive for all workers, particularly waste pickers. These steps include:

  • Recognizing and formalising the role of waste pickers in the plastic waste management system.
  • Providing social protection and decent work conditions for waste pickers.
  • Investing in training and capacity building for waste pickers.
  • Ensuring that waste pickers have a meaningful say in the design and implementation of plastic waste management policies and programs.

Waste pickers are essential to the global plastic waste management system. They collect and sort recyclable materials, which helps to reduce pollution and conserve resources. However, waste pickers often work in hazardous conditions and are denied basic labour rights.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

For further background see this site.

The labour-environment nexus: Exploring new frontiers in labour law

Reuse, Recycle, Unionize!: Urban Ore workers win union election, get ready to negotiate contract

By Peter Moore - Industrial Worker, May 17, 2022

The Urban Ore workers of Berkeley, California won their union election with a two-thirds majority of workers’ votes on April 7, 2023. 

The union received confirmation of their certification from the NLRB as a bargaining unit on Thursday, April 20. The campaign went public on February 1. 

While one of the employers had told local media he objected to some of the ballots, he did not file any objection before the deadline with the regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) office.

Urban Ore is a 3-acre for-profit salvage operation in Berkeley, California, founded in 1980 with its goal “to end the age of waste.” Workers describe it as an essential part of the Berkeley community. 

“They have a reputation in Berkeley as one of the longstanding hippy businesses that people love. The owners are also a bit power obsessed and don’t want to let go of control of their little baby,” said one of the workers who helped organize the drive, Benno Giammarinaro.

Urban Ore Ore Workers Win Union Certification Election With IWW

By Comms Officer - Bay Area IWW, April 10, 2023

Urban Ore workers join IWW to build more sustainable working conditions as business booms.

(Berkeley, CA, April 7, 2023) Workers at Urban Ore, a 3-acre salvage operation in Berkeley, have successfully won their organizing campaign with the Industrial Workers of the World's (IWW), San Francisco Bay Area Branch. The victory comes after more than a year of organizing and building solidarity within the workplace, community outreach and a delayed election, culminating in a successful union election on April 7, 2023.

"I'm incredibly proud of my coworkers and the hard work we ve done to reach this moment," said Receiving Department worker Benno Giammarinaro. "It's been a tiring year and a half of planning and supporting each other, but achieving union certification makes me excited to continue building a collective voice in our workplace." AJ Abrams, a worker in Urban Ore's General Store, is ready to carry the momentum of the election to the bargaining table. "The solidarity and resolve of our workforce as represented by these election results is definitely worth celebrating. But, we have a lot more work ahead in our efforts to bargain for a fair contract."

"I'm confident that we can make Urban Ore a more sustainable place for everyone. not just the owners. I am thrilled that we now have a seat at the bargaining table where the voices of the workers can finally be heard" said Receiving Department worker Sarah Mossier.

Workers began organizing amidst the COVlD-19 pandemic in a push to implement better safety and health protocols, win more stable wages and correct chronic understaffing. Since the onset of the pandemic, the company has experienced both unprecedented turnover and unprecedented profit.

Workers announced their union campaign on February 1, 2023 and have received overwhelming support from the community. Tati, one of the clothing specialists, attended a majority of the customer support days that took place after the vote was announced. "I loved talking with our patrons about what's going on at Urban Ore. Hearing their questions and doing my best to answer. One of the top questions was 'Isn't Urban re a co-op?'. No, not yet. But the union may help us finally make that transition after twenty years of talking about it!"

The victory at Urban Ore is another example of the power of worker solidarity and the strength of the labor movement in fighting back against corporate greed and exploitation. The IWW remains committed to supporting workers in their struggles for better working conditions, higher wages, and greater dignity on the job.

The workers of Urban Ore join a long tradition of labor organizing with the IWW, a union founded on the principles of industrial democracy and direct action. The IWW has a proud history of successful campaigns in industries ranging from agriculture to entertainment.

The victory at Urban Ore is another example of the power of worker solidarity and the strength of the labor movement in fighting back against corporate greed and exploitation. The IWW remains committed to supporting workers in their struggles for better working conditions, higher wages, and great dignity on the job.

Why are Urban Ore Workers Trying to Unionize?

By Zack Haber - Medium, February 15, 2023

Workers say they want higher wages, scheduling reform, a just cause clause for terminations, and a say in how the company is run.

Workers at Berkeley’s popular salvaged goods store, Urban Ore, filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stating their intention to form a union through the Industrial Workers of the World on February 2.

That same day, an instagram account associated with the union drive posted a statement voicing support for the store and its mission of stopping waste while also pushing for higher wages and scheduling reform for workers.

“We are proud to work at Urban Ore, and we want to make it even better,” reads the statement. “Urban Ore allows its customers a more sustainable alternative for shopping, and we want it to provide more sustainable jobs.”

On February 5, workers held a rally to support their union drive outside of the store. Members of East Bay DSA and several unions, such as ILWU, Bay Area TANC, and the National Union of Health Care Workers, accompanied the workers.

The NLRB will soon hold a secret ballot election for the store’s 25 union eligible employees. If a majority votes to approve the union, it will be officially recognized.

Benno Giammarinaro, who works in Urban Ore’s merchandise receiving department, said he’s “definitely optimistic” employees will secure enough yes votes to unionize. As part of their union petition filing, a majority of the store’s employees have already submitted signed cards indicating a desire to form a union.

Mary Van Deventer told this reporter that her and fellow Urban Ore co-owner Dan Knapp would not do an interview. She did, however, email a written statement from the store saying it “respects the rights of its employees to unionize if that is what a majority desire.”

Workers want higher wages, which they say Urban Ore can afford to pay

Van Deventer’s statement also said the company offers “very competitive pay.” Urban Ore pays its non-managerial staff a base wage of $13.60 an hour, which is less than Berkeley’s minimum wage of $16.99. But these employees also get fluctuating additional wages as a portion of the store’s gross income goes to them. In January, this proportion was raised from 10% to 15%. This year the owners estimate the income share to provide a $9.25 boost to the base wage, meaning that, in total, they expect workers to make around $22.85 per hour.

Urban Ore worker Sarah Mossler said that she’s not against income sharing, but that the current model often leaves her worried about whether or not she can pay her bills.

Workers at Urban Ore, Berkeley’s last salvage store, announce union drive

By Iris Kwok - Berkeleyside, February 2, 2023

Workers at Urban Ore announced Wednesday that they intend to unionize.

The workers at Berkeley’s last architectural salvage store are hoping to join the Industrial Workers of the World Union 670 and have filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. 

Organizers said they’re hoping to address understaffing, high turnover rates, and change the business’ wage structure through unionization. The store’s current wage structure, which fluctuates based on store profit and hours worked, exacerbates understaffing because it pads paychecks, said Urban Ore employee and organizing committee member Sarah Mossler. 

“It’s dangerous, quite frankly, the work that we do when we don’t have sufficient staffing,” Mossler said. “We’re lifting huge things. I’ve definitely been in situations before where I’m helping a customer lift a stove out of the truck, and we’ve been understaffed, and there’s no one who can help me.”

Business unexpectedly boomed at Urban Ore during the pandemic amid a spike in demand for secondhand clothes. Revenue has climbed 35% since 2019, according to the business’ organizing workers.

Union organizers are confident that they have support from the majority of workers, and intend to proceed with an official vote within the next four to six weeks, depending on whether the NLRB approves their petition. (As organizers felt the union would not be received well by the store’s owners, they opted not to seek voluntary recognition and instead file directly for recognition from the National Labor Relations Board.) 

A Pick Axe and a Heart Attack: Workers Suffer As They Clean Up Toxic Mess That Vernon’s Old Battery Recycling Plant Left Behind

By Mariah Castañeda - L.A. Taco, October 26, 2022

When workers tasked with cleaning up toxic lead dust spilled by the Exide battery recycling plant from Guadalupe Valdovinos’ yard started packing up, she noticed they hadn’t finished. She saw a large patch of soil on her property that they hadn’t touched. 

When she insisted they missed a spot, she remembers the clean-up workers rudely said that cleaning up the untouched corner of her property “wasn’t part of the plan.” 

Valdovinos says that the apparent disregard for her home started early in the clean-up process “They would hit and break things. We expected them to repair it. They were hostile. They were they would grunt or be very like, well, we didn’t do that,” said Valdovinos, “Like, we didn’t come at them attacking them. We were just pointing out, hey. You broke something. And they took it very offensive, like, No, we didn’t do that. No, that’s not our problem. So that was another issue. Yeah, it wasn’t a friendly environment.”

She complained about the clean-up at an Environmental Board Meeting in July and addressed California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the state agency responsible for cleaning up the mess made by Exide Technologies’ battery recycling plant. For decades, Exide belched out thousands of tons of poisonous lead dust across the predominantly Latino communities surrounding the industrial city of Vernon. 

“I’m here to urge the Council and DTSC not to contract the cleaning crew National Engineering Consulting Company Group, also known as NEC because they are not professional,” said Valdovinos at the Environmental Board Meeting.

She was hardly the first to complain of sloppy standards affecting the cleanup of more than 7 million pounds of lead dust spewed out by Exide. Residents have long complained about issues with the cleanup, and now employees of the contractors responsible for the cleanup are speaking out too. Reporting by L.A. TACO found two incidents of severe injuries to subcontractor workers due to possibly unsafe working conditions and questionable treatment of poisonous lead dust. 

One cleanup worker died after suffering injuries inflicted by a Bobcat digger at one site in 2020. At another, in the spring of 2022, an employee of a state contractor was severely injured by a pickax blow to their chest and shoulder area after a site was not appropriately cleared for overhead hazards. 

GlobalRec seeks meaningful participation of waste pickers in the first negotiations of Plastics Treaty in Uruguay

By Adja Mame Seyni Paye, et. al. - International Alliance of Waste Pickers, July 15, 2022

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers has submitted the position paper for the first intergovernmental negotiating committee meeting on plastic pollution. The submission recommends a dedicated discussion on the Just Transition of the workers in plastic production, packaging, and recycling in the negotiations. The committee meeting will take place in Uruguay in November 2022.

This draft has been sent to the Secretariat for the Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee (For the prospective Plastics Treaty) at the United Nations Environment Programme.

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

Workers at Curbside Recycling Win Raise, Paid Time Off

By Elise Brehob - Industrial Worker, September 22, 2021

For workers at the Curbside Recycling Program in Berkeley, California, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better working conditions. The truck drivers, who have been required to work every day while many California residents sheltered at home, demanded and won both a wage increase and more paid time off. The Curbside Recycling Union is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Curbside Recycling Program is operated by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization, under contract with the City of Berkeley. The program’s recycling truck drivers began organizing in 1988 and won their first union contract the following year. More than 30 years later, the drivers remain unionized, winning greater wages and benefits, as well as maintaining control over their routes and accident review committees.

“The purpose of the accident review committee is to give the workers the ability to discuss and vote on accident responsibility,” explains Joe, a driver at the Curbside Recycling Program and member of the union. “For instance, if a recycling truck is sideswiped by an impatient motorist, the committee has the ability to find the driver of the truck blameless.”

Joe also recalls a half-day strike that the Curbside Recycling Union staged a few years ago, which involved every driver walking off the job.

 “There was one key demand,” says Joe. “That demand was that the workers have a say in route distribution and route assignments, which the company agreed to. … That was a key moment for the union to demonstrate union power.”

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.