When the Ecology Center emerged as the first provider of curbside recycling services in 1973, all of the positions were volunteer. During the 1980s, we worked to institutionalize recycling to make it ubiquitous and mainstream. Even though the term “green collar job” had not yet been coined, the Ecology Center was well on the way to becoming a model Green Collar job employer.
An important component of our approach was to ensure that our recycling workforce had union representation. Since 1989, the Ecology Center’s recycling workers have been members of the Industrial Workers of the World Local 670 (IWW). Over the past years, we have worked with the union and employees to progressively improve the salaries, benefits, and training programs for our recycling workers, making the Ecology Center a better place for its employees to work.
Over the past couple of years, the nation’s economy has been locked in the worst recession since the 1930s, and we have witnessed rising unemployment and declining salaries and benefits across the country. Despite these conditions, the Ecology Center has improved salaries, health care and retirement benefits, and overall working conditions for its recycling workers. In January 2010, we signed a three‐year agreement with the IWW. As a non‐profit, public benefit corporation, we have been able to do this since profits do not need to be distributed to owners and shareholders.
Specifically, over the last decade we have been able to do the following:
- Increase wages by over 70% (40% more than inflation)
- Add an employer-paid retirement and savings plan
- Purchase safer vehicles with reduced soot emissions
- Improve worker equity by elevating eligible loaders to driver status with significant pay increases
- Provide high quality medical and dental benefits despite escalating costs
- Implement improved safety programs and worker training to reduce injuries and accidents
- Improve the physical plant and crew room
- Provide a crew computer with internet access
- Offer free, on-site English as a Second Language (ESL) classes
In October 2010, we will introduce a rolling cart collection program, which will make the work much easier. This is projected to reduce worker injuries. The Ecology Center constantly balances the needs of its employees with the overall wellbeing and financial stability of the organization. Negotiating this balance is a challenging process for our Board of Directors, management team, employees, and union representatives. Our track record of improvements in salaries, benefits, and training is a testament to our commitment to Ecology Center employees and a model for the growing Green Collar economy.