Union Says Environmental Issues at the Heart of Allens Ave Protest

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


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Citing DEM violations they say put the Bay at risk, Providence unions members say they have concerns with how two local scrap-metal companies operate.

Less than two weeks after Providence longshoremen picketed on Allens Avenue to protest the hiring practices of Sims Metal (SMM) recycling yard, a group of union members were back at the site this week to express their “concerns” with the scrap-metal operations of Sims and neighboring company Rhode Island Recycled Metals, LLC (RIRM).

Michael F. Sabitoni, Business manager and Secretary/Treasurer of the Rhode Island Laborers District Council and Labors Local Union 271, said his members were protesting what he called the “bad perception on the industry” that the two companies were portraying due to a lack of “environmental protections” taking plan in and around the Allens Avenue area.

“Our companies are held to a higher standard obviously,” Sabitoni said of the non-union companies. “And these other companies have been allowed to open up shops in an area that doesn’t take into consideration environmental impact.”

Increasing Awareness

Sabitoni says his group is attempting to “bring awareness” of the environmental impacts the companies are having and his claim is not without merit.

According to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), both Sims and RIRM were cited last year for failing to construct storm water controls to “properly manage and treat the storm water runoff associated with their business.”

“Failure to properly treat storm water runoff can cause adverse impacts to the aquatic environment and the species that live there,” DEM spokesperson Gail Mastrati explained. “The runoff from this type of business can contain heavy metals, oil and other petroleum byproducts, and sediment.”

Mastrati said the DEM issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to RIRM on May 7 of last year for “water pollution violations,” and the company has “submitted plans to the DEM to construct storm water controls to address the violations alleged in the NOV.”

RIRM and the DEM reportedly met last week to discuss a schedule to complete the work to get the company “into compliance” and resolve the administrative penalty.

SMM, meanwhile, also received a NOV from the DEM on that May date of 2012 and was issued a permit two months later to get into compliance. The company has paid the full penalty of $25,000 for the violation and has “until June 2013 to complete all the required work in the permit.”

The violations, Sabitoni said, prove there are real concerns to be addressed at the work sites.

“I don’t think it’s any secret it’s not setting a positive light on the scrap metal industry in Rhode Island with these two companies operating up and down Allens Ave,” he said.

The Real Issue at Hand?

According to a representative for SMM, the “environmental concerns” raised by the union are a smokescreen to the real issue at hand.

“Obviously, this union action is not about our environmental record, but is really about several local unions’ displeasure about jobs at this location being non-union,” said Sims spokesman Daniel Strechay. “At our more than 90 sites across the United States, we have many workers that have decided to work in a union-free environment just as we have workers who are represented by unions. We have had positive relationships with the 20 or so local unions that represent our employees in the unionized locations.

“Since bringing these jobs to Providence, we have met with the representatives of the unions involved and have told them what we tell organizers at every one of our facilities: We will let our employees choose for themselves. That’s their right.”

Strechay says that if Sabitoni and his union members truly believe Sims employees want to be represented by their union, they should “call for a secret ballot election.”

“This recent action is just another part of an on-going effort by these unions to coerce our company into handing over these good paying jobs to them even though our employees prefer to work in a union-free environment,” he said. “Our company provides a world-class level of safety, competitive wages and benefits, and good working conditions because it’s the right thing to do.”

Coming to the Table

Still, Strechay won’t elaborate on the concerns raised by Sabitoni and unions members over the environmental impact Sims is having on the area.

“We will not address the stormwater issue at this time other than to say that it will be settled to the complete satisfaction of the Rhode Island DEM,” he said. “We are on track for full compliance and will meet the June 2013 deadline. Today’s actions by the union have nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with its inability to unionize our workforce.”
Sabitoni says he and his union members have tried to no avail to discuss their concerns with Sims.

“We’ve tried to reach out through the company, through the mayor’s office,” he said. “We’ve tried to sit down and talk to the management at Simms but it’s just been on deaf ears so we feel that community awareness of what’s happening there now is our best approach to have them come to the table, recognize what a vibrant industry this is in Rhode Island, recognize the need to do things in an environmentally-correct way.”

“It’s just unfortunate the way it’s transpiring now,” he added. “We don’t want it to shed a bad light on an otherwise good paying industry that inside the Port of Providence has done well with all the environmental concerns and engineering controls in place. That’s how it should operate.”


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