Public Employee Press
"Sewage, Labor and the City" at the New School
Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320 President James Tucciarelli and PEP Photographer Clarence Elie-Rivera participated March 28 in a panel discussion, "Sewage, Labor, and the City," at the New School for General Studies.
Local 1320 President James Tucciarelli with members on the job at a wastewater treatment plant; 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater are treated each day.
The panel was part of the college's Water Week, March 28 thru April 1, which focused on health challenges of the 21st century and the worldwide importance of water, an essential element of life that most of us take for granted.
Tucciarelli pointed out that the city's system for handling and recycling wastewater parallels our bodies' biological systems. He described his 850 members' role in treating 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater every day for the people of New York City.
He explained that the workers who operate and maintain the Environmental Protection Dept.'s 14 wastewater treatment plants "have to have three years' experience in a skilled trade to get this job," and pointed out that they must go through a tough certification process.
Tucciarelli also described the bitter wage dispute that kept these vital workers without pay increases for eight years.
The audience learned more about that struggle for economic justice by viewing the award-winning video, "Local 1320 NYC Sewage Treatment Workers Fight for a Fair Contract," produced by Elie-Rivera, who is a student in the New School's Media Studies program. The video received thousands of hits on www.youtube.com and played an important role in educating the public about the local's battle for fair pay, which led to a settlement that the members ratified overwhelmingly early last year.
Katayoun Chamany, a professor of biology and genetics at the college, spoke about the mission of Water Week and its upcoming programs.
Questions from the audience concerned safety and health aspects of the job and the development of new processes for handling wastewater and storm water runoff in the city. Tucciarelli encouraged participants to take one of the tours of the facilities that are available to the public.