The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Garbage Collection:
Deadly for Workers

Feb 19, 2018

Garbage collection is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S., according to a recent report. Between collecting garbage and processing it at recycling centers, one worker per week gets killed on average in the waste industry – making it one of the five most deadly jobs, along with logging, fishing, flying aircraft and roofing.

More than 80 per cent of the worker deaths in the waste industry occur in private companies – which is not an accident. To secure more profit, private companies often ignore safety measures and force their workers to work faster or risk losing their jobs. The report by ProPublica, an investigative journalism agency, focuses on New York City, where private companies collect the city’s commercial garbage after dark, while the city collects residential garbage during the day.

Common causes of injury are missing safety equipment, trucks being old and in disrepair, lack of training for workers, and speed-up. Typically, there are two workers per truck, a driver and a “helper” who hangs in the back of the truck while it’s moving. During each shift, the two workers have to stop at hundreds of businesses, grab heavy bags (up to 80 pounds sometimes) and throw them into the back of the truck. One constant threat is being crushed under a dumpster or by the truck’s compactor. To meet deadlines, drivers often run red lights in the early hours of the morning, risking injury and death, not only to themselves but other motorists and pedestrians as well.

How about the government agencies that are supposed to regulate and inspect job safety? To mention one example, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has only 67 inspectors for the entire state of New York, with its millions of workers! And in the rare occasion that a company is inspected and caught, the “punishment” is usually not even a slap on the wrist. In 2014, for example, a missing safety latch on a truck caused the death of a helper. For this egregious, and deadly, safety violation, the company got fined only $7,000!

In addition to the extremely unsafe nature of the work, many garbage collectors make less than minimum wage. It’s common for companies to pay a worker a flat fee for a shift, which can be as little as $80 for 10, 12, or even 14 hours of work. There is an 11-hour federal driving limit but, apparently, that too often escapes the attention of regulators.

Not surprisingly, collecting garbage for private companies is a line of work accepted by workers who can’t find other jobs, such as immigrants and ex-convicts – which encourages the companies to further abuse these workers. Wage theft is quite common in the industry, according to occupational safety watchdogs.

The work garbage workers do is absolutely necessary for the health and functioning of the whole society. But to the garbage bosses, workers’ bodies and lives are there to be used and tossed aside – just so that the bosses can fill their pockets more, and more quickly. But then, it’s the same in every industry under capitalism.

Capitalism, a system that destroys workers’ lives, deserves to be thrown into the garbage itself.