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Recycling Plant Staffers Could Stop Working, Triggering Waste Backup: Union

By Ben Fractenberg | February 28, 2017 9:39am | Updated on March 1, 2017 10:54am
 A potential work stoppage at a Brooklyn recycling facility could cause an overflow of waste at transfer stations throughout the city, union officials said.
A potential work stoppage at a Brooklyn recycling facility could cause an overflow of waste at transfer stations throughout the city, union officials said.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

BROOKLYN — Workers trying to unionize at the city’s main curbside recycling facility in Sunset Park may hold a work stoppage in protest of the company's efforts to block them — which could clog waste transfer stations across the five boroughs, according to city officials and Teamsters Local 210.

About 70 employees who work for private contractor Sims Metal Management signed cards to join the Teamsters, but the company has refused to voluntarily recognize the union and negotiate a contract, a spokesman for the union said Monday.

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating complaints filed by the Teamsters about the company's interference with organizing efforts, according to the union and NLRB officials.  

“The Teamsters are committed to supporting them and ensuring they get a union contract. A strike at Sims would be a big problem for the city, but there is an easy solution. Sims should stop playing hardball, respect its workers, and bargain a contract," said George Miranda, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 210 in a statement.

Workers at the state-of-the-art facility, which was constructed out of recycled steel on a pier off 29th Street, are planning to rally at City Hall on Tuesday morning ahead of the scheduled 10 a.m. City Council Sanitation Committee hearing on the potential work stoppage.

A Department of Sanitation spokeswoman said the agency "fully supports workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively" at the facility, which processed 265,517 tons of metal, glass and plastic in 2016. 

"Regardless of whether Sims’ workers at the Brooklyn facility unionize or not, we expect Sims to provide its contracted recycling services to the City over the long-term and to continue to be a reliable and cooperative partner in our citywide recycling efforts," the spokeswoman said in an email.

"We also expect that all applicable laws and regulations regarding wages, working conditions and equal employment policies are strictly upheld."

A spokeswoman for committee chair Antonio Reynoso said the councilman "is concerned about the potential for a work stoppage at the facility and is holding the hearing to examine the issue in depth, and to hear from all sides involved."

Sims did not return a request for comment Monday before the meeting, but a spokeswoman Tuesday said while the Teamsters asked them to recognize a union, the workers have not actually had the chance yet to vote.

"We have asked the union to allow employees to vote on representation in a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)," the spokeswoman said in a statement. "The Company believes that employees should be allowed to exercise the right to vote. SMR does not believe that requesting an election encourages or justifies a work stoppage. SMR will respect the outcome of the vote regarding union representation."