Every day millions of pounds of waste are hauled out of our communities with little fan fair or attention. It is not robots or machines that do the work. With all the technology and innovation, it is still people who every day, remove the filth and waste out of our communities. In a civilized society this is one of the most important jobs around, yet the public knows so little about the work done and the people who do this work. If we actually thought about it, we would connect that the hard working waste workers protect our air, soil and communities from infestation, contamination, disease and blight. But we don’t know much about this work, because we tune out to the dirty work of removing our waste.
Well, I want you to think about this for a second.
Few know that aside from being constantly surrounded by filth, which creates great risk of illness and infection, the waste industry is one of the most dangerous in the country.
More deaths occur among waste workers than among dangerous jobs such as law enforcement and construction.
Yet waste workers are among the lowest paid manual labor jobs in America.
In fact, in Orange County waste workers earn roughly $38,000 a year, far below the poverty line for a head of household. Although waste work is physically demanding, many waste workers have second or third jobs, in order to provide for their families. In routine conversation with friends and family, people are shocked to learn about the low wages among waste workers. This is because the public has great appreciation and gratitude for the valuable and vital work these women and men do. In short, it is thankless, low paying, dangerous and difficult jobs our lives depend on. The men and women waste workers are heroes for what they do for us and we should be thankful.
Without these workers, families and communities could not enjoy sanitary, healthy and pleasant neighborhoods. It is also these workers who are on the front lines of preserving and improving the environment we live in. We need to show appreciation and gratitude to the hard working women and men in the waste industry that do the thankless and difficult job of collecting, sorting, recycling and removing hundreds of tons of waste from our communities daily.
As such, it is time these hard working heroes should have their hard work rewarded. Wages for waste workers must become commensurate with the valuable services they deliver. In the next several months Teamsters Local 396, of which I proudly serve as Secretary-treasurer, will be negotiating wages and working conditions for thousands of waste workers in Orange County and later Los Angeles county.
We humbly and respectfully ask for the public’s support for the valuable work provided by thousands of the most humble and dedicated workers you will ever meet. Keep your eye out for our efforts to win a great new contract that not only rewards these heroes, but is part of a renewed effort supported by millions to rebuild the middle class in America. Most importantly next time you see one of our members removing your waste from your home and community, do us all a favor and give them a loud thank you. They deserve it!
Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer Teamsters Local 396
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