Pittsburgh: Sanitation Workers Rebel against Low Wages and Unsanitary Conditions

Cover photo, sanitation workers rallying outside of the Bureau of Environmental Services

By Nélida Tello

Early Wednesday morning, more than 100 city sanitation workers in Pittsburgh refused to work and rallied outside of the Bureau of Environmental Services demanding hazard pay and protective gear.

The demands were sparked after one employee was sent home earlier in the week and instructed to self-quarantine after his wife had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Workers arrived to locked doors, uninformed that their morning shift had been delayed.

The rally lasted 90 minutes during which workers refuted the city’s claims that they had been screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Workers confronted their supervisor in the bureau’s parking lot, demanding hazard pay and addressing safety concerns. In Pittsburgh, sanitation workers are the lowest city-paid workers and receive only pay and a quarter for over time. Workers also demanded adequate protective gear such as masks, gloves, and boots in order to protect themselves when in contact with hazardous waste. 

Bourgeois media outlets have overemphasized the worker’s demands for protective gear by pushing COVID-19 as their main concern, yet workers’ also demand hazard pay citing their high insurance co-pays and their inability to afford medical care. Sanitation workers at the rally expressed their concern not only with contracting coronavirus but their everyday exposure to needles and other hazardous waste; such working conditions are not a result of COVID-19.

Teamsters Local 249 Union president, Kevin Schmitt, in collusion with city officials, stated that the workers’ rally was indeed not a strike and that it would not continue after Wednesday.  In a further attempt to pacify the anger of the sanitation workers, the city sent workers home with pay, and work is expected to resume on Thursday. Workers left the site frustrated, in a Facebook live video, Fritzroy Moss states “When did they ever [do their job]? […] They ain’t do nothing for me. They ain’t doing nothing for us,” referring to the efforts by the union and the city to swindle workers.