Since 2010, a landfill fire has been moving toward 8,700 tons of unlined illegally dumped radioactive waste in Bridgeton, Missouri. The site is in the middle of working-class neighborhoods, right next to the Saint Louis airport, and near a hospital, schools and a great number of businesses.
The Teamsters believe Bill Gates and other investors in Republic Services, Inc. should take a closer look.
Our union just issued a report -- "Republic Services Toxic Investments: Liabilities Mount at Nuclear Waste Landfill" -- that details years of mismanagement at the Bridgeton/West Lake Superfund site in suburban St. Louis and the risks to investors, jobs and public health it poses.
As the report shows, Republic has continually sought to minimize and deny the magnitude of the problem. Republic executives have failed to notify investors promptly about accumulating issues, and the company has recently resorted to impersonating the Environmental Protection Agency and creating a fake front group to distract elected officials and residents from the facts on the ground.
As we examine in the report, this wrong-headed approach has already cost Republic $219 million in remediation charges and costs stand to increase substantially as liabilities mount. And that doesn't even include the human toll for those who work and live around the burning landfills and have endured years of foul odors, nausea, headaches and exposure to known carcinogens.
The problems with Republic go deeper than just these two landfills and we worry about how many other Bridgeton's are out there. In Illinois, Republic's Roxana landfill has been found by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to have accepted radioactive waste traveling in from Missouri in violation of its permit. Meanwhile, the worst landfill fire in history, at Republic's Countywide Landfill in Ohio, is still burning nine years later. Sad to say, the list could go on and on.
With over 9,000 Teamsters who work at Republic across the entire country, we are deeply concerned about mismanagement at the company.
While radioactive landfills burn, CEO Don Slager has been paid millions and his estate is set to get $23 million in benefits upon his death. This, even as Bridgeton families worry about cancer and asthma and Republic's liabilities skyrocket. Teamster sanitation workers face Republic's drive to slash their health care coverage, and routine indifference toward improving health and safety protections and information. Meanwhile, a sanitation worker is twice as likely to die on the job as a police officer and nearly seven times more likely to be killed on the job as a firefighter.
Delays and distractions by Republic increase the company's liabilities for remediation and threaten the long-term sustainability of the company and the jobs of its employees. Doing what's right, right away costs less in the long run.
That's why Teamsters have joined with local community activists and the greater St. Louis region to challenge Republic to do right by the local Bridgeton community and protect the jobs of our hard-working members across America by expediting the cleanup.
Even if investors don't care about health and safety of communities and workers, they should pay attention to Republic executives' faulty handling of the Bridgeton/West Lake situation. It is time for them to start asking some real questions.
When it comes to Bill Gates, there is no reason he shouldn't get involved when the health of many could be at risk. The founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation owns about a quarter of Republic and seems content to ignore the problem. He has not responded to requests to meet with the Teamsters to discuss the serious operational problems at Republic, from working conditions to health and environmental impacts. That's no way to respond given his foundation's focus on helping "all people lead healthy, productive lives."
Mr. Gates cannot pretend that he is a silent shareholder in the company. He took a very public role back in 2008 when another waste company threatened to take over Republic. It is time for Republic to stop opposing real solutions. Delay and denial not only harm people, they end up costing more. I truly hope this time Mr. Gates is listening.
Follow James P. Hoffa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Teamsters