Teamsters call on Bill Gates to provide PPE for sanitation workers

getty: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates

The Teamsters are calling on billionaire Bill Gates to provide the workers of sanitation company Republic Services with personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Teamsters are launching a digital advertising campaign around its annual shareholder meeting on Friday. Gates, through his investment arm Cascade Investment LLC, is the largest shareholder of Republic Services, the second-largest waste company in the U.S.

The union is asking for members to sign a letter, “Tell Bill Gates: Use your power to keep sanitation workers safe.” It represents more than 7,000 Republic Services workers, which is about 20 percent of the company’s workforce.

“Gates controls nearly a third of Republic Services shares, more than enough to push the company to provide PPE during this crisis, and to demand they stop busting unions and negotiate with workers in good faith,” the Teamsters wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill.

It will be sent to members on Friday. 

Republic Services said in a statement to The Hill that its 36,000 employees in the U.S. are operating safely. It also launched an initiative to recognize its 28,000 frontline employees by providing them and their families meals regularly, gift cards, and other services.

“We are continuing to take enhanced measures to help ensure the well-being of our employees and communities, including closely following guidance from the CDC, state and local public health agencies and adhering to OSHA guidelines regarding the safe handling of waste and recycling. Among other things, we have provided employees necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for their roles — including face masks and gloves for all our field employees,” the company said.

Gates has been very active during the pandemic, providing insight and helping especially in developing countries. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently enlisted Gates to help with the state’s education system as it works to recover after the pandemic.

Chuck Stiles, the head of the Teamsters Waste Division, said Republic Services has “absolutely refused to engage” with him and he has had zero contact with them after attempts to discuss worker protections.

Teamsters is asking for face shields for workers who are handling garbage and puncher-proof boots and gloves. Stiles said the company has been “extremely slow” on getting even masks to workers. 

The waste collection industry, represented by the National Waste and Recycling Association, asked Congress this week for the next coronavirus relief package to provide 250,000 units of PPE for the industry.

Waste Management, the largest U.S. waste company and another in which Gates invests, has made an effort to provide PPE to workers and has been in communication with Stiles on a weekly basis, he said. 

“They have moved much quicker than Republic. We have open dialogue,” he said. 

Waste Connections, the third-largest waste company, is also in communication with Stiles.

“Their mitigation plan is one of the best I’ve seen actually,” he said, noting for example that Waste Connections has started implementing staggered shifts and allowing workers to not have to clock in for shifts inside offices.

Some local unions have heard from Republic Services, which told them the company would offer 10 days of paid time off to workers who contract the coronavirus or have a family member with it. Stiles said that the union wants more time for members. 

“If a member is out, continue to pay them 40 hours a week with their health care intact and loosen their attendance policy—10 days is a pretty quick period to get over this COVID,” he said.

Updated at 3:48 p.m.

Tags Andrew Cuomo PPE Republic Services Teamsters Waste management

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