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Labor and Advocacy Groups Call for Action on Unsafe Garbage Haulers

2:24 PM EDT on June 16, 2016

The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC Coalition
The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC Coalition

A new report from Transform Don't Trash NYC, a coalition of labor and advocacy groups including Teamsters Local 813 and Transportation Alternatives, is calling on the city to get unsafe sanitation trucks off NYC streets.

The job of collecting garbage in the city is shared by the Department of Sanitation, which handles waste from residential and governmental buildings, and more than 250 private companies, which collect commercial garbage through contracts with individual businesses. Because private haulers have contracts all over the city, they travel much wider distances than city sanitation trucks.

Union members and advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning to urge the mayor to take concrete steps to improve private hauler safety. Among their recommendations: waste collection zones that would assign private haulers to more efficient, geographically-condensed routes; stricter vehicle design standards; and a crash response protocol to hold companies accountable for poorly maintained trucks.

Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer
Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer

The report, "Reckless Endangerment," calls attention to a startling lack of vehicle upkeep by NYC's 20 largest private sanitation companies. According to federal inspection data, 96 percent of safety violations in the last two years were related to vehicle maintenance. Forty-eight percent of all trucks operated by the city's top 20 private hauling companies were taken out of service due to maintenance concerns -- more than double the national average.

One company, Crown Container, took as many as 86 percent of its vehicles out of service due to violations. Last summer the driver of a Crown Container truck killed 46-year-old Alberta Bagu as she crossed the street in Bushwick. The driver fled the scene and no charges were filed.

The city does not track how many traffic fatalities and severe injuries are caused by drivers of private fleet vehicles, but other data point to their outsized role in fatal crashes. A 2014 U.S. DOT study found that while trucks make up for 3.6 percent of vehicles in NYC, they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of cyclist deaths.

The most common violations are also the most dangerous, according to the report. Nineteen percent of the 20 companies' violations were related to faulty brakes, which a 2007 report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said was a factor in 29 percent of crashes involving commercial trucks. Faulty tires, spilled cargo, and broken lights were also among the more common violations. Broken lights are a particular concern since the trucks are commonly on the streets after dark.

Transform Don't Trash NYC recommends that the city establish a system of reporting and responding to trash hauler crashes. The process would involve tracking crash metrics by fleet and releasing information on collisions, including the names of the companies involved, the number of victims, and contributing factors. The report says the city should set guidelines for penalizing companies whose drivers are involved in crashes.

Teamsters Local 813 President Sean Campbell framed the report in terms of workers' rights. When a union member identifies maintenance issues on a vehicle, unionized workers can refuse to drive the vehicle, said Campbell. Non-unionized drivers can't do that without risking their jobs.

"For those non-union workers, the choice is between driving the truck or going home with a pink slip," Campbell said. "We need City Hall because the companies have shown they will not shape up on their own."

An Action Carting worker driving against traffic on one-way Greenwich Street in front PS 150 in Tribeca this morning. Photo: Jennifer Aaron
An Action Carting worker driving against traffic on one-way Greenwich Street outside PS 150 in Tribeca this morning. Photo: Jennifer Aaron

Sanitation worker Carl Orlando, who has driven for multiple private sanitation haulers, said the companies he worked for never took his concerns about unsafe trucks seriously. He recalled an experience where he crashed a truck with faulty brakes into a telephone pole.

"Luckily I didn't hurt or kill anybody but if I did, that would have been on me," Orlando said. "The company would have said I should have known better and they would have done anything they could do to put me at fault. There's no reason why there should be trucks that are unsafe driving around these streets."

Transportation Alternatives is surveying the safety practices of private trash haulers, and plans to release a "fleet management gold standard" in 2017.

"Innocent New Yorkers are being killed and injured because these private waste haulers are operating unsafe vehicles," TA Executive Director Paul White said this morning. "They must clean up their act. For Vision Zero to mean something, the mayor must take action."

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