Hundreds of Alameda County recycling workers filled the Local 6 union hall on March 1 to celebrate two years of hard work that yielded dramatic improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions –and opened the door to helping new workers organize and join the ILWU.
Like the historic “Alameda County Recycling Workers Convention” held in the same location two years ago, the room was filled again with family members, community supporters and political allies who came to celebrate the string of remarkable organizing victories by workers at the largest recycling operators in Alameda County.
Recycling worker Alejandra León co-chaired the event with fellow recycling worker Pedro Sanchez. Both did an excellent job and conducted most of the event in Spanish – the language preferred by a majority of recycling workers – but simultaneous professional translation services were offered with headphones to everyone attending.
Monsignor Antonio Valdivia provided an inspirational blessing to begin the event. He started by recalling that his own father had been a longtime member of Local 6, and used to bring home copies of the ILWU’s Dispatcher newspaper, which little Antonio would read out loud for his father who was unable to read. Monsignor Valdivia concluded by speaking to all the children in the room, asking them to respect how hard their parents are working at difficult jobs in order to provide bread for their families.
Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker added his welcome, thanking workers and special guests. He recounted the many accomplishments made during the past two years, explaining, “you’ve done so much good work to make life better for hundreds of workers employed in this industry – but many more recyclers are still suffering, and we’re now in a better position to help them.
A surprise visit was paid by the superhero, “Recycle Woman,” who appeared at the event in brightly-colored tights and a cape, played by Jessica Robinson. After greeting the audience, she led the children into a back room where she shared games that taught “zero waste” recycling skills for the children to use at home and school.
Solidarity from Brazil & Colombia
Environmental organizer Christie Keith of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) brought a message of solidarity and support from recycling workers in Colombia, Brazil and other members of the Latin America Recyclers Network. She noted that all recycling workers share a common bond for the important environmental work that they perform – and the struggle for justice required to gain recognition and respect. GAIA organizer Monica Wilson, who serves on the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling Steering Committee, also attended.
ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe and Secretary- Treasurer Willie Adams were both on hand to lend support and encouragement. Familathe, who oversees the union’s organizing efforts, said the
International union has supported the recycler organizing project for years because it has been a good way to help workers in a partnership with Local 6. He offered his continued support and encouraged workers to maintain their organizing efforts.
Alejandra León thanked Willie Adams for appearing two years ago at the first Recyclers Convention, where he predicted: “This campaign that we’re taking on, won’t be won by speeches – it will be won by working with allies, partners and a strong commitment.”
León thanked him for supporting the project and said his words two years ago had been “prophetic.” Adams spoke briefly, thanking workers for keeping faith in themselves and their union.
Key role by workers
The heart of the event was led by workers who shared short stories about the struggles they have endured during the past two years, fighting for better wages and benefits.
“Two years ago, we came here to make a plan for improving our recycling jobs. We set a goal for better pay that some people – including some officials from the Teamster and Machinists union – told us was ‘too much, too soon.’ But we didn’t back down, and today are celebrating the many victories that came from everyone’s hard work,” said León, as she and Pedro Sanchez began introducing workers who briefly shared their stories. Josefa Solano from BLT in Fremont explained how they became the first group of recycling workers to win raises and benefits that meet the new standard. Dinora Jordan from Waste Management told of a long, difficult but ultimately successful struggle by workers against one of the largest waste companies in the world.
Jose Gomez from ACI explained how workers overcame minimum wages, no benefits, no union and disrespect for immigrant workers to join Local 6. He reported that co-workers are now negotiating an ILWU contract that meets the “Alameda County Recycling Worker Standard” calling for “sorters” to earn .94 by 2019 along with affordable family health benefits.
“We couldn’t do all this by ourselves,” said Pedro Sanchez, who said the room was full of “compañeros” who supported the “causa” of improving conditions for recyclers. A group of special guests was then recognized and thanked – each receiving the gift of a commemorative framed poster signed by recycling workers.
Attorney Emily Maglio from the Leonard Carder law firm was recognized for helping ACI workers prevail in a class-action lawsuit that was recently settled for .1 million and will provide many workers with significant back-pay awards. Workers Ignacia Garcia, Maria Granados Flores and Griselda Mora were named on the lawsuit were recognized and thanked for their courage.
Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer was congratulated for hearing the concerns of recycling workers who have appeared before the City Council several times to provide updates and seek support for improvements at ACI, which provides recycling services for Alameda residents.
Recycler Ruben Ramos introduced Fremont City Councilmember Vinnie Bacon and thanked him for taking leadership to protect the environment and promote worker justice. Fremont was the first city in Alameda County to help workers reach the new pay and benefit standard. Oakland City Council member Dan Kalb was congratulated for supporting the fight to improve recycling services for Oakland residents and help workers win better working conditions.
Recycling and waste expert Ruth Abbe was honored for her service to the campaign, including her continuing role on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling.Abbe also plays a leadership role in the Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee and has been providing workers with invaluable advice. Other environmental support for the campaign has been offered by the Center for Environmental Health.
Community organizer Brooke Anderson, affiliated with the Movement Generation network, ran to the podium to accept her award for supporting the recycling worker campaign. She has organized workshops to train workers about the economics of the recycling industry, and serves on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling. Other community support has been provided by Oakland’s East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE). Recycler Mirella Jauragui congratulated staff from the University of California’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) for providing excellent health and safety training sessions to hundreds of recycling workers. LOHP staffers Suzanne Teran, Dinorah Barton-Antonio and Valeria Velasquez were recognized for their important work. Additional workplace safety advocacy and support has been provided by the Worksafe! organization.
The final honors were reserved for Pastor Pablo Morataya of the Primera Inglesia Prebisteriana Hispana in Oakland. A key ally in the campaign to help workers, Pastor Morataya hosted the campaign’s first major community outreach event in November, 2013, where political leaders from Oakland agreed to pledge their support for improving conditions for recycling workers. He has also been a strong advocate for immigrant workers at ACI who were threatened with discrimination and firings.
Other important support for ACI workers from the faith community has been provided by Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Other faith community leadership for the recycler’s campaign has been provided by Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, Kristi Laughlin and Servant B.K. Woodson of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME).
The afternoon event concluded with music – featuring the beautiful voices of Pedro Sanchez and Gustavo Nuñez, who also played keyboard. Family members of Rosa Delia Pérez provided the “DJ” service and more music. A buffet dinner was provided for all family members and guests.
ACI worker José Delgadillo probably summed up the feelings of many in the room, when he said: “All of us who work at ACI have seen how much Local 6 and the ILWU have done to help us. We can now see that a better life is possible – not just for us, but for other recyclers who can win if we help them.”