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Raise the Wages for CRRA’s Lowest Paid Trash Sorters

President Obama just announced a game changer. He has long campaigned for a raise in the  federal minimum wage. To push that, he signed an executive order to raise the wage floor to $10.10 per hour for any company or person employed under federal contract.

That means if you stitch camoflauge vestments for the U.S. military somewhere deep in the Kentucky Appalachias, you will get paid $10.10 an hour, and not be working for the previous minimum wage, $7.25. Or in the Appalachias, less than minimum wage.

This executive order begs the question: Can state executive branch agencies do the same thing? Gov. Malloy has just suggested raising the Connecticut minimum wage to $10.10. But our minimum wage is always higher than the federal.

So could Gov. Malloy use the same executive powers Obama has for all contractors who pushed brooms in state buildings and worked the factory floors for quasi-state agencies to create a living wage for them? Say $15.00 an hour (which is what many consider a living wage in Connecticut)?

Unions have long quarrelled with the state and its contractors over working conditions imposed on the Connecticut government’s minimum wage work force.

In full disclosure, I have studied this issue. I once had a short-term research contract with SEIU 32 BJ to examine janitorial contracts. My law firm now serves two clients who worked low wage jobs on the factory floor at Connecticut Refuse Recovery Authority, or, CRRA.

Yet of the 44 employees laboring in CRRA HQ in a Constitution Plaza high-rise, 15 of them more than $100,000 annually, said Jon Lender in the Hartford Courant on November 16, 2013. The average salary, Lender said, is $90,000 there.

CRRA CEO/President Tom Kirk raked in $389,139 in total compensation, $292,586 of that in salary in 2013.

Lender reported that Laurie Hunt, the director of legal services, made $233,859 in total dough, with $175,834 in salary. I met her when I did a Freedom of Information Act request two weeks back. I wanted to see what CRRA’s contract with the company managing the recycling facility said.

There is no provision in the contract providing a wage floor, although FCR is expected to abide by all applicable Connecticut laws, which means, minimum wage. Kirk in 2013 made 22.66 times what we would expect the lowest of the low in CRRA’s hierarchy earned.

The state, as a progressive institute protecting rights, should not promote a caste system. How does Kirk’s job deserve more than the hard manual labor of standing aside a conveyor belt sorting trash for eight hours a day? It’s classic American CEO ego and greed.

Maybe Kirk thinks he deserves it because he negotiated a contract where a North Carolina company whitewashes CRRA’s fence.

CRRA farms out the Murphy Road trash sorting operation to FCR Redemption, Inc. from North Carolina. FCR does business in Connecticut as ReCommunity Hartford. CRRA doesn’t pay FCR.  CRRA collects recycling revenue from tipping fees from private haulers, but there is no charge for member communities for recycling.

Then, FCR pays CRRA for access to the raw recycling materials. FCR sorts the recyclables and sells them. The business probably has a thin margin, so FCR hires low wages laborers.

FCR has the right under its CRRA contract to hire subcontractors. CRRA can inspect the subcontracts, but cannot reasonably withhold approval of said subcontractor. CEO Kirk can wash his hands of accountability for treatment of low-end workers.

CRRA also demands FCR have an anti-discrimination policy in place. In a four-inch thick tabbed document in a white three-ring binder sits a form signed by FCR’s secretary David Sturgess, from October 31, 2013, promising compliance with state law prohibiting discrimination.

I asked Hunt at CRRA how exactly CRRA knows if FCR or its subcontractors comply with this non-discrimination provision? She wasn’t sure.

That the legal director didn’t have a ready response to something spelled out in a special document as part of the contract surprised me. It seemed like CRRA does not have any checks and balances in place.

Section 2.11a of the contract calls for FCR to submit Health and Safety incident reports for any incidents that occur at the Murphy Road facility. Since January 2013, in a facility that sorts garbage, only one incident has been reported. Amazing, right? Or maybe not.

The one incident occurred April 9, 2013 at 12:30 a.m., when a payloader backed over a light pole. FCR replaced the light pole at its own cost. FCR didn’t report it right away (although section 9.6.2 of the contract demands FCR notify CRRA of any property damage immediately by phone and fax).

Maryann Bergenty, the CRRA field manager, drove into work at 7 a.m. that morning and saw the damaged lightpole. She called Tom Gaffey, CRRA’s director of Recycling and Enforcement, to alert him, and then drafted a report. CRRA had to review video to determine what happened.

The unsafe act: “Loader operator was not aware of his surroundings.” The remedy, or “What corrections would prevent similar incidents? Be aware of your surroundings when operating heavy equipment.” Sounds like a recipe for a safe workplace.

Sure. A safer workplace would be one where all employees are treated fairly and get paid a living wage. Gaffey gets more than living wage. He made $177,747 in total compensation, $133,645 in salary, according to Lender.

Now hold your nose: Gaffey resigned as state senator after he pled guilty to larceny for defrauding the state of money when he was a Senator. Bet to win that Gaffey didn’t have to check the box on his job application after that conviction. Does FCR make its applicants check a box? If so, Malloy could fix that too.

Gov. Malloy needs friends in labor. AFSCME has been fighting for workers rights at CRRA for years. Gov. Malloy could win some friends with an Obama-style gesture: All CRRA workers will now get paid $15.00 an hour, a clear living wage for Connecticut. Fair, considering CEO Kirk makes $187 or so an hour.

Or, the legislature could do it. Recently, House Speaker Rep. Brendan Sharkey, House Majority Leader Rep. Joe “A-to-Z” Aresimowicz, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney raised Governor’s Bill No. 27: “An Act concerning Connecticut’s Recycling and Management Strategy.”

This bill seeks to move CRRA away from its trash-burning role and focus on recycling. Recycling is the cash flow at CRRA, since burning trash for energy loses money. Fracked natural gas has lowered CT’s energy rates.

This creates an unseen environmental costs dilemma: do we prefer high child asthma rates in cities from burning trash or the death of the Delaware River watershed from fracking? How about we just turn off some lights?

That won’t help CRRA much. CRRA projects as much as a $4 million deficit in 2014, according to Christine Stuart at CTNewsjunkie.com.

That’s about how much 44 people at the agency made combined, Lender said. While Gov.’s Bill No. 27 will spend some time in the Environment Committee, maybe Environment could send it over to Labor for a little while to discuss the pay disparities between the CRRA bigwigs and trash sorters.

Of CRRA’s many problems, one of those not often discussed has been the treatment of its low wage labor force. As the state talks about overhauling CRRA, now is the time to discuss and act on being fair and just to its most important human resources: the people who sort the recyclables.






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