Sanitation workers protest subcontracting

Several sanitation workers and other staff staged a small demonstration in Beinecke Plaza on Wednesday afternoon to protest the University’s subcontracting of garbage collection to a private firm.

While no employees have been laid off as a result of the change, Craig Green, an executive board member for Local 35, said sanitation drivers have lost 70 percent of their work to St. John’s Rubbish Company. Union members and Yale’s ground maintenance manager disagreed over whether the decision to subcontract, which stemmed from cost overruns, was an appropriate response to overtime pay and equipment maintenance issues that have strained the department.

Green said the subcontracting was only the latest in a series of University decisions that allowed the sanitation department to deteriorate. Over the past few years, Green said, the number of sanitation workers has declined from eight to four as the management has decided not to replace workers who have left.

But Grounds Maintenance Manager Walter Debboli said the subcontracting decision was simply the result of collective decision making completed after examining the cost figures.

“There were the costs of overtime pay, the costs of maintaining equipment, the costs of breakdowns and the costs of added help,” Debboli said.

Green — who led Wednesday’s protest with a megaphone — said administration concerns about overtime pay were unfounded and that the University should have hired more employees to compensate for the extra work hours needed.

Other maintenance costs were the product of equipment mismanagement, not inefficiency on the part of the workers, Green said.

“Managers are responsible for letting equipment erode, but they blame our workers,” he said. “There should be a place to house the vehicles so the hydraulics don’t freeze.”

Debboli said trash collection was an expensive operation to conduct in-house, and that the sanitation department was not able to bring costs down despite efforts to make operation adjustments and schedule changes.

“When you get to a point where you are adding more people, you have to ask if it is more cost-effective to add more people, or whether you look at another way to run operations,” Debboli said.

In response to Green’s concerns about a lack of storage space for vehicles, Debboli said it is common practice in Connecticut for sanitation workers to leave equipment outside.

Local 35 President Bob Proto said union members had been collecting trash effectively for the University for many years, and that he is concerned with the direction the University is taking.

“The university has the contractual right to do this, but morally it’s wrong,” Proto said.

He said the union was concerned about the private companies with which the University was aligning itself.

“There have been many reports of [discrepancies], that these companies have fallen below the standards of an employer like Yale,” Proto said.

Represetative from Yale’s Union Relations deparment were unable to be reached for comment.

Green said the union will continue to stage protests over the coming weeks to raise awareness on campus. While only six members were present at Wednesday’s protest, he said, the group made a conscious decision to focus on involving sanitation workers directly affected by the changes in the initial protests.

“We’ll get more [union members] involved in the coming weeks,” Green said. “We’re collecting signatures from students, workers and faculty for a petition to [President Richard] Levin to restore garbage collection [to Local 35.]”

Green said they hoped to have the petition ready for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We are going to march from Golf Street, where the workers punch in, to Levin’s house and hand him the petition,” he said.

Dan Bromel, one of the sanitation workers who attended the protest, said he worried that nothing prevented sanitation workers from seeing their jobs further reduced.

“We used to take care of all the trash,” he said. “They subcontract it out, and now they got us doing recycling, but there’s no guarantee they can’t subcontract out recycling.”

The group plans to set up a booth outside Woodbridge Hall in order to raise the visibility of the issue, Green said.

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