Dump activists surprised by Teamsters alliance

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“Are they looking to have a contract or are they concerned about (the environment)? If they had a contract and were unionized, would the Teamsters still be involved? I don’t think so.” But the Teamsters say the union’s focus on American Waste Industries is part of a new effort to partner with community groups on sanitation, worker safety and environmental issues. The union also has hired attorneys to help community activists in Granada Hills fight Sunshine Canyon Landfill’s plan to merge the neighboring city-county dumps into what would be one of the largest landfills in the nation. “We found it to be a very potent alliance to work with community and environmental groups on issues that impact not only workers but the community they serve,” said David Cameron, who coordinates the national campaigns of the Teamsters and is working on Sunshine Canyon. “We want to demonstrate to any employers that we have a nationwide reach. When we see problems, we want them to know the Teamsters are watching.” With union membership at only 12 percent of the work force, organized labor is increasingly looking to amplify its strength by partnering with community groups on mutually beneficial campaigns, said Kent Wong, director of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. He pointed to the supermarket unions that have teamed up with residents and local business owners to fight non-union Wal-Mart superstores. “Many of the unions are interested in developing allies in the broader community around common interests,” Wong said. “It’s a trend that will continue.” The Teamsters union has focused on the national issue of landfill safety, Cameron said. That’s why the union has joined the North Valley Coalition in seeking a 2016 closure date for Sunshine Canyon, along with more stringent environmental controls at the dump and a long-term insurance policy in case the dump leaks and taints the water supply stored in the nearby Los Angeles Reservoir. The union stance has changed significantly since 2003, when Teamsters Local 396 wrote letters supporting Browning Ferris Industries’ efforts to open the 194-acre Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills, saying it met all safety and environmental standards. That project anticipated the eventual merging of the existing county dump with the new city dump into a single landfill with a 90-million-ton capacity. “It’s an issue we have revisited given the size of Sunshine Canyon. The larger the landfill, the greater the chance of collapse and the greater the risk to workers,” Cameron said. Although the workers at the landfill are represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Cameron said the Teamsters organization has the financial resources as the largest private union in the nation to take on worker safety issues. The Teamsters Local 396 does represent truck drivers and mechanics employed by BFI. Their contract expires in 2007. North Valley Coalition President Wayde Hunter has tried to close Sunshine Canyon Landfill for more than a decade with only small victories along the way, so he welcomes the Teamsters’ assistance. The union helped hire two high-profile law firms to go head-to-head with BFI. And now a number of national environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have joined the fight. “He who has the most prestigious person representing them tends to be heard,” Hunter said. “We’re just trying to even the playing field and to have somebody who has a good reputation. Does it help? Yes, I believe it does. Maybe (the decision makers) will do a little more, spend a little more time analyzing what these companies put forth.” In Sun Valley, some residents are more circumspect about the union’s activism. The Teamsters union is leading the fight to get a full environmental study for American Waste Industries, a trash sorting and transfer station that would take up to 700 tons of garbage and food waste each day. Again, the Teamsters brought in two law firms – Los Angeles environmental attorney Jan Chatten-Brown and San Francisco-based labor and environment law firm Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain. The lawyers helped temporarily block American Waste’s proposed permit at the California Integrated Waste Management Board. American Waste is a small, local, privately owned trash hauler and recycler whose employees are not unionized. However, the company agreed to meet with the Teamsters Local 396 last year after a labor rally outside its gates. Negotiations broke down several months ago after the Teamsters’ representatives attacked the company with “extremely vulgar and explicit language,” American Waste Industries Vice President Hutch Stepanian wrote in a letter to the waste board. He called the Teamsters’ opposition “political games.” “This is an obvious discriminating effort by IBT, considering that they are supporting a proposed new facility (Waste Management), which is four times larger than ours across the street from us,” he wrote. Teamsters Local 396 representatives have testified in favor of the Bradley expansion at several public meetings, saying they don’t want to lose stable, well-paying jobs when the landfill closes. Mackey, with the East Valley Coalition, said International Teamsters organizers did approach her group about partnering, but the coalition is concerned that union is working with Waste Management to drive out smaller, locally owned trash companies. “I don’t want to play ball if it looks like on the surface we have a common goal, when someone is behind the scenes pulling strings,” Mackey said. Waste Management District Manager Doug Corcoran said his company has nothing to do with the Teamsters’ opposition at American Waste. “The Teamsters’ relationships with other companies is between them and the other company. We let them deal with their issues.” That said, Corcoran does want other trash facility projects in Sun Valley to go through the same scrutiny as Bradley. Chatten-Brown said she has heard the community comments about the Teamster’s motives and she investigated to make sure there were valid environmental concerns before she took the union as a client. Those concerns were confirmed during a May 9 hearing in Sun Valley when residents complained of heavy truck traffic in the area, unsafe garbage trucks and rodent problems, which she saw firsthand when a rat scurried out of one of the buildings. “It seems to us there are very, very legitimate issues there,” Chatten-Brown said. “I have been assured that if they reach a contract they won’t drop the issues.” kerry.cavanaugh@dailynews.com (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! After butting heads for three years over the politics of trash in the northeast San Fernando Valley, environmentalists and homeowners now find themselves aligned with the powerful Teamsters union in fighting the expansion of yet another waste facility in Sun Valley. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents truck drivers who haul trash to Bradley Landfill, has been the most outspoken advocate of Waste Management’s plan to expand Bradley and build a 7,500-ton-per-day trash-transfer operation on the site. So local activists were surprised – and wary – when the union joined with them in protesting plans by American Waste Industries to accept 700 tons of garbage and food waste at its Sun Valley construction debris transfer station. “I don’t think we have everybody’s agenda,” said Ellen Mackey of Sun Valley, a member of the East Valley Coalition, which opposes landfill operations in the Valley. last_img

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