In July, workers at the Sunset Park facility, which processes all of the city's recycling, reached out to Teamsters Local 210, one of the country's largest labor unions.
Their concerns included disrespectful management, unaffordable healthcare costs and unfair scheduling.
Workers approached management in December with signed union authorization cards requesting a collectively bargained contract.
Juan Pineda has been with the company for over two years. Last year, he was promoted from laborer to mechanic.
“I worked as a mechanic for a year and they never gave me the salary corresponding to the mechanic position,” he said through a translator.
Pineda became one of the workers pushing for unionizing. He said he was demoted back to laborer, which he saw as a response to being pro-union.
“The workers need a voice, someone to speak for them,” Pineda said. “We don't feel secure in our jobs. We're here today, but we don't know about tomorrow.”
Jhon Munoz is hoping workers can bargain for a better health care program for all the workers.
“It comes out of our pockets and it's really taking a toll on our checks,” he said. “It's really expensive and, I'll be honest with you, it sucks.”
The workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and the City Council held a hearing on the conflict last week when it appeared workers may strike.
A spokesperson for SMR, however, said they always supported the rights of employees to vote on whether or not they should unionize.
“Respect for our workers has always been our priority, and we fully respect their decision,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to proceeding to constructive contract negotiations with the Teamsters Local 210.”
Typically a unionization vote would have taken weeks, but the two sides reached an agreement last Thursday that allowed for a vote the next day.
“SMR is pleased we were able to reach an agreement with Teamsters officials to allow this expedited vote, and we especially appreciate the role of the City Council in helping to make this vote a reality on an accelerated timetable,” the spokesperson added.
The next step for workers is to develop contract demands and begin negotiations. The union also plans to set up an interim grievance procedure to protect workers from any disciplinary action.
“It feels so good to say that we are Teamsters,” said Jordy Lopez. “We are thankful for the support we have received from the community and government officials. We fought so hard, but now it is a new day at Sims.”