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June 10, 2020

Sanitation workers call for hazard pay, more protections during pandemic

Dozens of garbage collectors have caught COVID-19, protesters say

Protests Workers' rights
philadelphia sanitation workers protest Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Philadelphia sanitation workers rallied in LOVE Park on Tuesday to demand more personal protective equipment, hazard pay and other protections for employees working through the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanitation workers gathered at LOVE Park on Tuesday to rally for better working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic and oppose proposed budget cuts to the Philadelphia Streets Department.

Among their demands: Increased personal protective equipment, hazard pay, temperature checks and COVID-19 testing sites designated specifically for sanitation workers.  

The workers pointed to their roles as essential employees amid the months-long coronavirus pandemic. Trash collection mostly has continued on its regular schedule, despite some setbacks

They criticized the impact of Mayor Jim Kenney's budget proposal, which cuts spending to the Streets Department by $18.5 million. 

Darrell Rockwell addressed the conditions the workers face. He is one of 60 sanitation workers who tested positive for COVID-19 and his son caught the coronavirus from him, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.  

"Our conditions are real bad," Rockwell said. "They haven't given us the proper tools to protect ourselves. We have to get our own masks, our own gloves, our own everything. For them to not give us hazard pay at least during this pandemic is ridiculous." 

More than 100 people showed up to the protest, organized by AFSCME Local 427. City Council members Helen Gym, Kenyatta Johnson, and Charelle Parker also attended to show their support, WHYY reported.

The protesters argued sanitation workers represent a prime example of the wealth gap between black and white Philadelphia residents. Nearly 1,400 of the Streets Department's 1,700 workers identify are black, according to the city's 2017 Philadelphia Workplace Diversity report. 

"Black lives matter not only in neighborhoods or schools but at work," Daniel Reyes, a teacher who helped organize the rally, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A city spokesperson told the Philadelphia Tribune that the workers' contract was extended during the coronavirus pandemic. The one-year extension included a 2% raise and a $750 bonus. 

Sanitation workers receive about $35,000 per year. Their jobs are often strenuous, requiring them to walk for seven hours and lift pounds of garbage, protesters noted. They also potentially come into contact with contaminated materials. 

The workers protested despite a threat of penalties, including potential job loss. Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams wrote a letter Monday saying any worker who took an "unauthorized absence" to attend the protest would be disciplined. 

"Streets sanitation employees perform a vital role in keeping city streets and neighborhoods clean and free from unhealthy trash and refuse," Williams wrote. "As a result, we cannot and will not tolerate any unauthorized absences whether it is to attend the planned rally or to call out in solidarity with the rallying effort."

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