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KCBS Cover Story Series: Getting By – Living Wage Law Doesn’t Always Apply

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Workers at Alameda County Industries material recovery facility in San Leadro sort through recyclables. (Alameda County Industries/YouTube)

Workers at Alameda County Industries material recovery facility in San Leadro sort through recyclables. (Alameda County Industries/YouTube)

DougSovern20100908_KCBS_0208r Doug Sovern
Doug began his career as a copy boy at the New York Times, and then...
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Doug Sovern’s KCBS Cover Story Series: Getting By airs on KCBS 740AM/106.9FM through Friday at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm and 4:30pm, March 24-28.

SAN LEANDRO (KCBS) — The latest income data shows that about 20 percent of the Bay Area lives in poverty and that figure is rising while local home prices, the stock market, and the incomes of the very rich are soaring to record levels.

Nowhere is the Bay Area’s income disparity more apparent than at the places where low-paid workers sort through what the rest of us throw away.

So just where does your garbage and recycling go, and who sorts it?

In San Francisco and San Jose it’s unionized workers who handle waste and make over $20 an hour. But the women who pick through recycling for San Leandro, Alameda, Livermore and Dublin earn only $8.30 an hour—that amounts to just barely $16,000 a year.

Through an interpreter, Griselda Mora and Guadalupe Ortega, who both sort recycling at Alameda County Industries in San Leandro, told KCBS what it’s like live within their means.

“It’s extremely difficult. We just have to learn to manage the little that we have,” Griselda Mora said.

At work, it can be equally difficult and unsafe.

“Some items that pass through here are extremely heavy and it’s dangerous because sometimes there are syringes other chemicals and dangerous things pass by,” Mora said.

Ortega can’t understand why people throw out brand new clothes and toys that are still in the box—things she can’t afford to buy. But she said that workers are punished if they try to take anything off the conveyor belt.

“You see a lot of items that are reusable,” she said.

“I felt especially bad when I saw some things that I felt that my kids could use and play with but you can’t get it and it’s just heartbreaking to see all these things go by.”

Mora and Ortega said ACI is violating San Leandro’s living wage law and should pay them another $6 an hour. But they’re actually employed by Select Staffing—an outside contractor. When workers there raised the issue, they were told an immigration audit found their documents to be out of order, and 20 were sent home.

An ACI company official insisted that they were not fired but Mora and Ortega sis they suddenly found themselves out of work—and broke.

“I feel that they did us wrong. I’m just because I’m giving them nine years and now they just throw us out.” Ortega said.

ACI doesn’t think the living wage law applies to them but have said if officials determine it does, the company, and the contractor, will comply.

While the dispute is resolved, the women, who still work there, struggle to get by and the ones who were taken off the line have no idea how they are going to survive.

“We have to find something. We have to find something to feed our children with,” Mora said.

Taking care of family is common theme and one that will be explored more in Friday’s final installment of “Getting By.”

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