Inside New York’s Deadly Private Garbage Industry

Asher TobinSolid Waste Recycling

Former garbage workers protest outside Sanitation Salvage’s offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, demanding wages they say the company owes them.

Ex-Sanitation Salvage Workers Protest: “All We Want Is for Them to Pay Us What They Owe Us”

The former workers at the private trash hauler, which surrendered its license in November, said they and others were owed money from both their last weeks on the job in 2018 and for working off the books for years at a rate of $80 per night.

The temperature was barely above zero in the Bronx on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but more than a dozen former garbage workers showed up outside the offices of Sanitation Salvage, once one of the major private trash haulers in the city. They carried signs and demanded wages they say they are owed by the company, which surrendered its license in November after a series of revelations about its troubled operations.

Andres Hernandez said he’d worked as a Sanitation Salvage driver for seven years. Manuel Matias said he’d started working at Sanitation Salvage at age 17 and was paid off the books for years. Alex Amante said the cold was all too familiar — he’d regularly worked the city’s streets at night in such temperatures, doing shifts that he and other workers said could be 18 or even 21 hours long.

The former Sanitation Salvage workers picked the day to protest intentionally. When King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, he’d come to the city in support of its sanitation workers, who were on strike over low pay and dangerous conditions following the deaths of two workers.

“All we want is for them to pay us what they owe us,” Hernandez said.

The former Sanitation Salvage workers said they and others were owed money from both their last weeks on the job in 2018 and for working off the books for years at a rate of $80 per night. In 2015, after an investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor concluded that Sanitation Salvage owed workers $385,000 in unpaid overtime accumulated over the previous three years alone, but the company never paid it.

In 2018, Sanitation Salvage was the focus of a series of articles by ProPublica exposing its history of safety issues and role in two recent deaths, claims of exploitation by workers, and its cozy relationship with the union representing those workers. The union, long run by a mobster, was seen by many of its ostensible members to be in league with Sanitation Salvage’s owners; in 2013, the National Labor Relations Board found that management unlawfully threatened to fire workers who opposed the union. The BIC eventually declared the company an “an imminent danger to life and property” and suspended its operations. Months later, following the company’s return to business, it surrendered its license for good.

To read more visit ProPublica