At a Sanitation Committee hearing at City Hall last week, two non-union employees of Five Star Carting, a commercial waste-collection company based in Maspeth, Queens, testified about the intolerable conditions they face on the job.

Michael Bush said, "Five Star doesn't train anyone. They don't care. I do this job because I have to care for two sons. I shouldn't be treated like shit. Excuse the French." Carlton Darden added, "When you only earn minimum wage and are working 60 hours a week in the bitter cold snow and ice—I feel like I am being taken advantage of."

Between de Blasio's One NYC pledge to reduce commercial recycling by 90% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and a recent muckraking report from Transform Don't Trash NYC revealing dismal commercial recycling rates in New York City, the commercial sanitation industry has come under considerable scrutiny—for its indifference both to the environment and workers' rights.

Two days after testifying at City Hall, both Bush and Carlton were fired. Bush told Capital over the weekend, "I went down to the City Council and I expressed my thoughts on what's actually happening at Five Star... Upon me speaking out to the Council I was issued write-ups for termination."

Upon hearing the news, Sanitation Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso planned a rally outside of Five Star Catering headquarters for 9:00 this morning. Teamsters Local 813 also announced that it was filing charges on the men's behalf with the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor.

But less than two hours before Reynoso's rally was scheduled to begin, the Teamsters issued an announcement that Five Star had backpedaled overnight: both Bush and Darden had received phone calls that their jobs were secure. The rally went on as planned—both to celebrate, and to make it clear that the fight for fair treatment in the private sanitation industry continues. Teamsters spokesman Alex Moore estimated that about 40 union members and environmental advocates attended, along with councilmember Reynoso.

Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813, said in a statement this morning, “New Yorkers have learned two things this week: Five Star Carting does not respect its workers or their free speech rights, but also that when workers, community members, and elected officials stand together, we win."

We spoke with Michael Bush this afternoon, who is planning to report for his regular shift tomorrow evening, as a truck helper. On a typical shift, his tasks include hoisting 75-pound bags of trash into the trucks, and securing 1,500 pound dumpsters to the truck's lift.

Bush told us that he met with Five Star's owners in person this afternoon, and that they made promises to improve working conditions. Bush said, "As far as the improvement, they claim they'll adhere more to what the workers are saying." For example, the need to improve the company's trucks, which Bush says have faulty brakes. However, "I'll have to see how true they are to their word. And I'll make my decision from that point on, if I'm going to stay [on the job]."

Bush's primary complaint with Five Star is what he describes as a "screening process": whenever he's had a grievance, it's been impossible to talk to his bosses directly. For example, Bush suffered a lower back injury on the job in January 2014, and missed a few days of work. He has yet to be compensated for those days, much less his medical treatment.

He added, "We shouldn't have to go through rallies for them to listen. But that's the only language that seems to be understood." Five Star did not immediately respond to a request for comment.