New York Private Sanitation Workers Hold Moment of Silence for MLK
Workers memorialize King’s advocacy for striking sanitation workers at the time of his death
Teamsters Local 813 and private sanitation workers from across New York City held a moment of silence this morning to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by a discussion of his campaigns for civil and labor rights.
Around the country, civil rights, religious, and labor organizations are commemorating the anniversary. In Memphis, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has organized a rally with sanitation workers who marched with King before his death.
Local 813 President Sean Campbell spoke with workers at Action Carting in the Bronx about what Dr. King’s legacy means for today’s sanitation workers fighting for economic and racial justice at work. Teamsters at Action will soon begin contract negotiations, with workers demanding a five-day work week and significant raises after past wage cuts.
“Everyone knows Dr. King’s role in our civil rights history, but he was also a champion of workers,” said Campbell. “The reason he came to Memphis, where he was assassinated, was to support African American sanitation workers who had been on strike for months seeking dignity and justice. We are doing our part to keep his work alive and empower today’s sanitation workers.”
Workers across the industry, who collect commercial trash and recycling during overnight hours, took part in the moment of silence before or after their shifts. A delegation of Action workers and Teamster leaders are also in Memphis to join in the rally there.
“We owe it to MLK, and to ourselves and our families, to continue fighting,” said Denzel Alvin, a worker at Action Carting. “It’s no secret that when this industry was mostly white, the workers got paid more than we are making today, now that private sanitation workers are mostly Black and Latino. We deserve fairness.”
A third of Black workers and more than half of Latino workers in New York’s private sanitation industry earn less than $35,000 annually. Wage theft is also widespread.
The New York City Department of Sanitation is moving forward with reforms that can raise labor conditions in the industry, through wage standards and safety requirements. The department’s commercial waste zone plan is expected later this year, and private sanitation workers are organizing with the Teamsters to ensure the plan lives up to its promise.