For workers at the Curbside Recycling Program in Berkeley, California, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better working conditions. The truck drivers, who have been required to work every day while many California residents sheltered at home, demanded and won both a wage increase and more paid time off. The Curbside Recycling Union is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World.
The Curbside Recycling Program is operated by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization, under contract with the City of Berkeley. The program’s recycling truck drivers began organizing in 1988 and won their first union contract the following year. More than 30 years later, the drivers remain unionized, winning greater wages and benefits, as well as maintaining control over their routes and accident review committees.
“The purpose of the accident review committee is to give the workers the ability to discuss and vote on accident responsibility,” explains Joe, a driver at the Curbside Recycling Program and member of the union. “For instance, if a recycling truck is sideswiped by an impatient motorist, the committee has the ability to find the driver of the truck blameless.”
Joe also recalls a half-day strike that the Curbside Recycling Union staged a few years ago, which involved every driver walking off the job.
“There was one key demand,” says Joe. “That demand was that the workers have a say in route distribution and route assignments, which the company agreed to. … That was a key moment for the union to demonstrate union power.”