Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stop Alameda County Industries garbate rate hike.

Workers at ACI recovery facility in San Leandro sort through recyclables
Image source: KCBS

This is a comment on developments in the small town I live in the San Francisco Bay Area

By Richard Mellor 
Afscme Local 444, retired *

Alameda County Industries, (ACI) the private company that collects the garbage for the cities of San Leandro and Alameda, has announced it is raising garbage rates for San Leandro 8.49% starting August 1st. According to the company, half of the cost of the increase will be to pay the city mandated $14.50 an hour.  If it wasn’t mandated, they would continue to pay starvation wages. 

As I wrote in February 2014 after attending a rally outside ACI’s offices, (see video)  the living wage ordinance says that “Applicable businesses must comply with the provisions of the ordinance when they enter into a lease, contract or concessionaire or other agreement with the City of San Leandro or when an existing agreement is amended to benefit the business.”  The wage is $14 .17 an hour or slightly less if the employer pays benefits valued at least $1.50 an hour.”

Between 2007 when the ordinance was introduced and 2014, ACI was paying these contracted workers as low as $8 an hour and workers, some employed by the company as long as 17 years, eventually approached the bosses to complain, reminding their employer about the city ordinance.  In retaliation, the company then called immigration to come in and check people’s papers as most of the workers at that time were supplied through another party (all leeching off those who actually did the work) and were immigrants, mostly Spanish speakers. Yes, they’re nasty bastards.

So for years this company was ripping off workers by paying them as much as 50% less than they were legally entitled by intoroducing.  And $8 an hour in this area is a sub poverty wage which is why people work three jobs or more sometimes. After the rally and the events leading up to it, it seems the third party that ACI farmed out this human labor power to left the scene and the company hired the 67 sorters (remember these workers are sorting through our garbage for as little as $8 an hour some of them.) directly.

The increase in garbage rates was approved unanimously by the San Leandro City Council.  Pauline Cutter, San Leandro mayor spoke enthusiastically on the issue, “I believe it's a necessary increase to pay a living wage, a fair wage, to these workers.”, she said before the vote.

So taking more money from working people for vital social services appears to be the only alternative, after all, the workers need better pay, even more than this city imposed minimum. $15 an hour in the San Francisco Bay Area barely keeps one’s head above water.

But if these politicians or the council as a whole represented the interests of working people (and the unemployed are working people without jobs) those workers at ACI and the rest of the city's residents who are overwhelmingly wage earners, as opposed to corporate types or business owners, not only should the company long ago have been forced to pay the mandated figure but the response to its position to raise rates should have been to open the books to public scrutiny.

I have tried to find out exactly who owns ACI.  This is a very difficult task when it comes to any business other than your local barber shop. With the help of a local reporter I found that one of the owners is a man named Robert Molinaro. Doing a little research myself I also found that he appears to be connected in some way to an organization that deals in rental property Pamcompanies, I can’t be sure, it is not easy to find out exactly who owns these corporations and we do not have a system of economic democracy. If finding the owner (s) of a corporation was as easily as finding the local Safeway it would be a huge advantage.  I did read somewhere that ACI has “affiliates” or is itself is “affiliated” with other entities somewhere.

There were similar abuses at the local dump where workers (immigrant workers again) were being paid $12 an hour by Waste Management, an ACI competitor I've been told, to sort through human garbage. Waste Management, is one if not the largest garbage company in the country. Its management received millions of dollars in pay and one of its top investor/owners is a billionaire.

In cases like these when corporations or employers claim they have to raise prices in order to pay wages that people don’t quite starve on, labor’s response has to be “open the books”. Let’s see what the owners take home. In fact, lets see who the hell the owners are. The bosses’ make this argument all the time that if they have to pay higher wages they will simply raise prices. But, this implies that wages and prices are organically linked and that is not the case. If we force the bosses to increase pay through mass action, strikes etc. and we prevent them from increasing prices or the market, won’t bear a price increase at that time, then they eat it in profits. Then their income or standard of living declines just like ours does when they take away our benefits or force us to work for less.

The game being played here is that profits are off the table; they are never mentioned. That’s why the common slogan that wage increases lead to price increases is pushed by the bosses’ in their media. If we accept that they can simply raise prices any time they feel like it, why fight for higher wages? It would be a fruitless activity.

In the case of San Leandro that I raise here, if enough homeowners petition not to pay the increase in garbage rates and send this in writing then the raise will not take affect. This is a good start although taking some sort of collective direct action would bring the same result a lot faster.  In the event there is any active resistance to this raise we must not fall in to the trap of making another section of the working and wage earning or poor population pay which is what the corporation and the city council as their representatives will try to do. 

Rather than simply accepting ACI or any employer’s position that prices have to be raised simply to pay a wage barely above bottom, the position should be:

Open the books to rank and file union scrutiny and to community scrutiny and lets see who earns what, lets see profits.  And lets get to the bottom of who actually owns the company.  As all these corporations are generally linked to other corporations, holding companies and other institutions created to hide from the public who owns the means by which we feed, clothe house and generally make society function we will have to fight to go down that road, but fight we must.

In the event a company is unable to pay a wage people can live on then it should be taken out of private hands, should be made a public service.  The collection of human garbage and its disposal should not be a for profit function anyway, it should not be in private hands.

*I would be interested in talking with any San Leandro residents who are interested in finding a way to stop this raise increase that doesn’t include passing the cost on to other workers, small community businesses or the poor.  I can be reached at San_leandro_workersclub@yahoo.com