AFSCME Locals Unite for Mass Rally to Defend Sanitation Jobs, Services in North Miami Beach

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – More than 200 union members stood united with small business owners and community activists in front of city hall here Aug. 4, protesting the council’s recent decision to move forward with consideration of outsourcing the city’s sanitation services.

“It fills all of us with so much hope and pride to see so many people coming out to say that we matter, that our jobs matter because quality sanitation services are key to making a city a place people want to come to and stay to both live and to work,” said Janice Coakley, president of AFSCME Local 3293. “We have been fighting this same fight for years and they think that one day we will just throw up our hands and just give up, but tonight proves that we will never give up our fight.”

The protesters, representing 15 AFSCME locals and members from other AFL-CIO unions, including the Communications Workers, Pipefitters, Office and Professional Employees and UNITE HERE, marched in front of the entrance, chanting and carrying homemade signs, as well as many of the iconic “I Am A Man” posters from the historic AFSCME Memphis sanitation strike.

“This is one big union salad out here because to make a good salad you need many different ingredients that when mixed up are both distinct but also work well together,” said Jaime Thomas, a Miami-Dade County sanitation worker and member of AFSCME Local 3292. “A contract means everything to workers like me because it protects our rights, protects our livelihoods and is the basis for the relationships we build with the community as we provide a critical service.”

“We came out tonight because the fight for good jobs, a voice at work and respect in the community is everyone’s fight,” said Gahodery Cambry with UNITE HERE Local 355

It was a fight that Lenard Williams, with AFSCME Local 2009 in Hallandale Beach, knows too well after seeing what happened when sanitation services were outsourced in nearby Hollywood.

“Private companies deliver cheaper services by cutting expenses like workers’ health care and hourly pay, and by cutting maintenance costs for their collection vehicles - putting potentially dangerous vehicles driven by overworked employees on our roads,” said Williams. “What this ultimately means is that, although the service is cheaper, the service, the employees and, ultimately, the local community suffer.”

And it is a fight that has united generations.

“Blaming the cost of these services for poor budgetary decisions by the city is like blaming the life boat because the ship is sinking,” said Melba White with AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 45. “The reason for privatizing this essential service is due to a bloated budget rife with pet projects.”

“A union means that somebody’s got your back, looking out for you and for your family so a lifetime of work can actually mean something at the end of the day,” said Matthew Beasley with AFSCME Local 2009 who brought his children Nathan and Zoey with him to the rally. “You can’t wait until it is your job on the line to stand up and fight, you have to stand up to make clear it is not worth coming after your job.”

After the rally, speakers filled the small council chambers and filled the public comments section to speak out against the outsourcing effort. A majority of the council has voted to move forward, but it is not expected to deal with proposals until September.