On the morning of March 25, Pittsburgh sanitation workers refused to do their routes in protest of the lack protective gear provided to them and to demand hazard pay. According to the workers, two members of the department have contracted COVID-19, but the city of Pittsburgh and Mayor Peduto neglected to tell workers about the outbreak and to take further precautions to prevent more infections. As one worker said, “Every time we grab a garbage bag, we risk our lives.”
In a Facebook Live video, one of the workers summed up the situation, “We are the transmission, this machine don’t work unless we make it work. Remember that. They got a job to do, which is try to make us work. We got a job to do and make sure we go home the way that we came in, which is without a f–king virus. Believe that.” The motto of the department is “Go home the way you came”, but without the proper safety equipment that becomes increasingly difficult.
The workers are demanding testing for all employees, proper safety equipment and hazard pay. They were sent home for the day with pay, but have been told to come back tomorrow. Union representatives are currently in negotiations with the city.
According to the workers, they are the lowest paid employees in the city. They don’t get a lunch break and are expected to work in all weather conditions. The rest of the Public Works Department has been shut down for three weeks, but the sanitation workers are classified as essential workers and are expected to work as normal. On-the-job injuries are already a major issue for these workers and coronavirus is just another worry on top of the usual issues. In addition to concerns for their own safety and the safety of their families, sanitation workers are also deeply worried that they could spread the virus if they become infected as they handle garbage cans for people across the city.
One of the workers rallied the crowd in response to management’s response, “If one of us gets it and we don’t know, we’re all going to get it and some of us may lose our damn lives! Remember this here, we stand together, we fall together! Period! I’m not going to die out here for somebody else’s goddamn rubbish! Our lives are just as important as anyone else’s!” While Mayor Peduto is under quarantine, sanitation workers are expected to continue operations as normal, despite a number of the workers having underlying health conditions that can exacerbate the effects of coronavirus.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation calls for the compulsory mass production of critical goods necessary to fight COVID-19 such as test kits, ventilators, protective equipment and medical equipment. Personal protective equipment is vital at this time and needs to be provided free of charge to front-line responders like sanitation workers.
As one of the workers said in the video, “Equal rights and justice for all.” Solidarity with the sanitation workers and all workers during this crisis!