Workers, advocates rejoice as Sanitation Salvage announces it will close

Once Sanitation Salvage’s trucks stop rumbling through the South Bronx’s streets, say advocates, those streets will be safer for everyone else. 

A Sanitation Salvage truck.

Embattled trash hauler’s truck killed two in six months

Environmental and labor activists hope that the surprise closing of a controversial, private trash collecting company based in Hunts Point, is a first step to reining in the city’s private trash haulers. Once Sanitation Salvage’s trucks stop rumbling through the South Bronx’s streets, they say, those streets will be safer for everyone else. 

In November, Sanitation Salvage announced that it will be going out of business, following months of public pressure on the company and the city agency responsible for overseeing private trash haulers, the Business Integrity Commission. Pressure was first applied when the investigative journal ProPublica found that the same driver was at the wheel twice in a six-month span when the company’s trucks caused fatalities, first running over an off-the-books worker helping the crew collect trash, and then last winter when a 72-year-old resident of John Adams Houses, Leon Clarke, was struck and killed while crossing Westchester Ave. 

News of the company’s closing came just hours before a Nov. 28 rally on the steps of City Hall, at which labor groups had planned to press the City Council for sanctions against the carter. 

Teamsters Local Union 813, environment-focused labor alliance ALIGN and other groups brought posters with blown-up news clippings of pedestrians struck by garbage trucks, and one that read “Commercial Carting Industry is completely broken.” Another featured a photo of Mouctar Diallo, the Guinean worker killed in the 2017 incident. 

“It’s a day of [jubilation] for a moment, but there’s still more work to do,” said Ronald Topping, tenant association leader at Adams houses. 

Although the shuttering of Sanitation Salvage was a victory, the way it happened was not ideal, said Teamsters spokesman Alex Moore. 

“His death was covered up and more than a year went by before they voluntarily went out of business. It’s really made the dire situation clear,” said Moore. 

In a letter to the Business Integrity Commission announcing that it would cease operations, Sanitation Salvage intimated that more regulation would be bad for both the industry and the city. The company claims it lost customers when the agency allegedly shared its route information with competitors and added new oversight requirements. 

But advocates maintain that the private hauling industry is the most unsafe in the city for workers, and are hopeful that the recent controversy will pressure the City Council to pass legislation to reduce the area private companies can cover. That would lead to a decrease in the greed that causes those companies to overwork and underpay workers, say the advocates. 

The plan calls for creating 20 zones around the city that private haulers would be confined to serving, and capping the number of haulers at five per zone.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-34), who chairs the sanitation committee, said he plans to introduce the bill in the spring. Hundreds of private carters currently overlap throughout the city. Ten different trash haulers service just 12 Mott Haven blocks, according to a report put out by the sanitation department. If the bill passes, rezoning could be complete by 2023. 

The teamsters say they have begun relocating Sanitation Salvage’s workers to companies that offer higher-paying union jobs, according to Moore.

For the families of Clarke and Diallo, however, the proposed reforms are too little, too late, said Topping.

“We are not cattle. We are human beings, but they run over us like animals,” he said at the City Hall rally, his voice cracking as he yelled, adding that if not for Sanitation Salvage, “Clarke would be alive. He was at our last Christmas dinner. He won’t be at the next one.” 

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