ST. LOUIS, Oct. 6, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Saturday, Teamsters gathered with St. Louis-area residents, union members, elected officials, faith leaders, environmental experts and attorneys about Republic Service's [NYSE: RSG] West Lake Landfill. West Lake is a Superfund site in Bridgeton, Mo. that contains 8,700 tons of buried uncontained radioactive nuclear wastes adjacent to an underground landfill fire.
Saturday's teach-in spread awareness of the environmental catastrophe at West Lake and kicked off discussions of how to best keep area residents safe.
The coalition called on Republic Services Inc., its owners, Bill and Melinda Gates, elected officials and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the health and safety of the surrounding community.
"Republic Services has the legal, moral and financial responsibility to keep workers and communities safe from its toxic landfills," said Chuck Stiles, Assistant Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling & Related Industries Division to the attendees at the teach-in. "If you can't remove the radioactive waste, then you must pay to move people away from it. If workers could be exposed, then you must pay to properly equip them, train them, and compensate them for the hazardous work they are doing."
"Teamsters are part of this community. More than 1,600 Teamster families live in the toxic shadow of the Bridgeton landfill and hundreds work nearby," said Marvin Kropp, President of Joint Council 13 during his remarks "This has to be taken care of. Too much time has been wasted. Too little attention has been paid to those who have to live side by side or downwind from it."
The teach-in was also addressed by Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Ms. Gibbs led the community fight at Love Canal, New York in the 1970s, in which a landfill containing toxic contaminants polluted an entire neighborhood. The U.S. government was forced to relocate hundreds of families to ensure their safety.
"West Lake Landfill is this generation's Love Canal. In Love Canal, we were told that the thousands of tons of toxic chemicals were not causing any of our health problems," Gibbs said. "Does this sound familiar? In Love Canal we were told that putting a covering over the top of dump would protect us. Does this sound familiar? When I see corporations like Republic downplaying risks to residents in order to save themselves some money and some trouble, I see history repeating itself. You and your allies in this room will have to keep organizing and agitating until you and your families have been moved out of harm's way."
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the landfill fire continues to move towards the radioactive wastes. Meanwhile, a study by the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services found that cancer rates are significantly above normal in the zip codes near the landfill.
"Republic's endangerment of communities is not limited to Bridgeton, Missouri," said Robert Morales, Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling & Related Industries Division. "At Republic's landfills in Ohio, California, South Carolina, Vermont and other states, communities have been exposed to landfill fires, years of noxious odors and environmental violations for which Republic has been fined and sued for millions of dollars.
"Neither does Republic care about its workers. This company has locked out its workers and forced strikes that have led to major trash pickup disruptions across the United States. Republic consistently tries to take affordable health care and retirement security away from the frontline sanitation workers who risk their lives every day to protect the public health."
Sanitation work is the fifth-most dangerous job in America. Recently, Teamsters who work at Republic Services in Mobile, Ala. held a "Just Practicing" picket to protest Republic's plans to enact an unaffordable health insurance plan.
In 2012, Republic Teamsters in Mobile were forced to go on strike when the company reneged on an agreement that provided modest improvements to workers' health care benefits. Striking workers and community allies extended picket lines that were honored by fellow Republic workers in six other U.S. cities.
Last year, the driver that Republic named its "Driver of the Year" in Brewton, Ala. was hospitalized and required months of kidney dialysis. Republic held back his disability checks and did not pay many of his medical bills.
"Bill Gates is the largest owner of Republic Services stock and has been actively buying more stock for months. If he were truly serious about improving health, he would forego his dividend from Republic for the next four quarters," Morales said. "His net worth is more than $70 billion - surely he can use some dividends to create a 'St. Louis Relocation, Health Registry and Remediation Fund.' And he should pressure Republic to do the same."
An online petition to Gates, asking him to relocate families and clean up the landfill, has gathered more than one thousand signatures and continues to grow.
Republic Services/Allied Waste is America's second largest solid waste and recycling company. The company has an estimated $14 million earmarked for the estate of CEO Donald Slager should he die or become disabled during employment.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates owns 29 percent of the company's shares through Cascade Investment, LLC - about $4 billion worth. This includes 16 million shares (worth $645 million) purchased in 2014 alone. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also owns 1.35 million shares of Republic stock. Michael Larson, chief investment officer at Cascade Investment and investment manager for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been a Republic Services board director since 2009.
When Republic pays a $0.28/share quarterly dividend in October 2014, Bill Gates and his Foundation will receive $27.6 million.
The Teamsters represent approximately 9,000 employees at Republic Services and its subsidiaries at more than 150 facilities throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.
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Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters.
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SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters