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Driven to death: Carting company’s overworking and law skirting leads to fatal accidents, workers claim

In action: An Action Carting packer truck made its way down Broadway in Bushwick on Feb. 7.
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They’re commanded to work as many hours as allowed by law — and pick up some overtime.

Calls come from bosses while they’re behind the wheel asking them where they’re at — and to speed up.

When they hit a red light — they’re coached on how to run it.

That is the culture of malfeasance truckers at Action Carting, the garbage firm whose unlicensed truck driver hit and killed 27-year-old Netfaly Ramirez last July, have to deal with every day, claimed those who work there and union officials.

The Brooklyn Paper spoke to two employees of a union representing Action Carting staffers — one of whom once drove for the company — and a current Action driver, and all of them claimed management at the New Jersey-based private-carting firm demands speed over safety from its truck operators.

“Drivers are kind of always put under the gun to get their stops done however they can in a timely fashion,” said Ray Borrero, who works for the Teamsters Local 813. “During the course of the night, you get calls asking where you’re at or what’s taking so long, and that adds to the pressure.”

Action Carting’s drivers — including 63-year-old Jose Nunez, who ran over 27-year-old Neftaly Ramirez while driving a truck without the proper license — usually start their work weeks on Sunday nights, sometimes driving for as many as 14 hours straight, the legal limit under federal law, as they collect garbage from across the city, leaving them little time to recuperate, according to Borrero.

The majority of Action truckers work six days a week, with around five percent clocking a five-day work week, and all can receive overtime pay for driving more than 40 or 60 hours, depending on their contracts, the Local 813 rep said.

The drivers can either pilot a “packer” — the truck Nunez drove when he hit Ramirez — that requires the aid of a co-worker, called a helper, and makes more local stops picking up standard trash bags, or a “roll-off,” which collects larger containers such as dumpsters and is operated by a single employee.

Driving either truck is a hard job, but those behind the wheels of Action’s packers are notoriously overworked, according to the current employee, who said he used to drive one but switched to a roll-off to give his body a break.

Action demands its packer drivers work nearly twice as much as those at some other private sanitation companies, according to the worker who requested anonymity out of fear he would lose his job if his bosses knew he talked to a newspaper.

A typical night in his previous position as a packer driver for the Texas-based firm Waste Management lasted between six and eight hours — occasionally stretching as long as 10–12 — with anywhere from 150 to 300 “stops,” which can vary from quick pickups at a single mom-and-pop to longer ordeals at commercial complexes with multiple clients. But for Action packers, a light night requires 200 to 300 stops, and a heavy one can mean anywhere from 500 to 1,000, the Action employee said.

“Physically I can’t work all those hours, it’s just way too much,” the anonymous driver said.

Another former Action Carting packer operator who also once drove for Waste Management agreed that the New Jersey company overworked him, saying he would routinely skip meals in order to complete his shift.

“I used to have 14 hours, and what I had to do was not stop for lunch — there was no other way I could get my route done. And when you couldn’t get your route done, the supervisor would chastise you,” said Allan Henry, who now works as an organizer for Local Union No. 813.

And company higher-ups have told drivers to ignore traffic laws if it’ll save time, Henry said — behavior that locals routinely document.

“I’ve been told by workers who’ve been pulled into an office and shown a tape of them running lights, they tell them, ‘Try to stop and look both ways before you run the light, just don’t run through it,’ ” he said.

But instead of lightening truckers’ workloads by hiring more and shrinking their routes, Action honchos routinely ask drivers to make more stops in their given collection areas, the current employee said.

“They should have a lot more drivers on the road. That eliminates the long hours, and the accidents,” the anonymous worker said. “But Action is doing the total opposite — if there are three routes that are right next to each other, they will eliminate the one in the middle, break it in half, and add each half to the [two] others.”

And company bosses don’t seem motivated to change protocol for the good of their workers, according to Henry.

“They really don’t give a damn about the standard that they diminished,” the former Action employee said.

A rep for another union that represents Action employees — including Nunez, before he retired shortly after hitting and killing Ramirez, according to his coworkers — called the accusations that company honchos terminally overwork their drivers ridiculous. He added, however, that his group is fighting to institute a shorter, five-day work week in the next round of contract negotiations.

“As far as complaints or concerns about excessive hours or the company not allowing for proper breaks, I find that to be a ludicrous accusation,” said Mike Hellstrom of Laborers Local 108.

Before any motorist can even hit the road inside a massive garbage truck, he or she must obtain a commercial driver’s license, which requires medical clearance and passing specialized written and road tests.

Nunez did not have one, and Action Carting rep Ken Frydman declined to comment on whether his bosses knew that, how often the company checks the validity of its employees’ licenses, and if Nunez ever got behind the wheel of another truck after fatally striking Ramirez, citing an expected civil suit the deceased’s family plans to file against the carting company. Frydman confirmed that Nunez retired last year, but would not specify when.

Each source this newspaper spoke to was shocked to hear that Nunez was on the road without a valid commercial license, however, because all of them said Action honchos regularly check drivers’ credentials, although they couldn’t say how often.

“That’s a big no-no,” said the current driver. “They do have someone that monitors our licenses to make sure they are valid.”

And Borrero questioned how that could have even happened in the first place.

“He should never have been behind the wheel of that truck,” he said. “How did that fall through the cracks? They really dropped the ball on that one.”

When police found out Nunez was on the road without the proper license — a fact authorities never released, which this newspaper confirmed after speaking to the Ramirez family’s lawyer — they slapped him with a summons four months after the fatal crash. The violation Nunez received typically results in a $150–500 fine, according to a New York State courts spokesman.

Still, hitting and killing the cyclist while driving without the correct license was not enough for District Attorney Eric Gonzalez to press criminal charges, and the top prosecutor absolved Nunez on Jan. 9.

Authorities said the driver didn’t know he hit Ramirez and that they lacked the evidence needed to charge Nunez, in part because they claimed there is no surveillance footage of his packer truck plowing into the cyclist — only clips showing the moments before and after.

But the district attorney’s prosecutors told the Ramirez family’s attorney, Michael Kremins, that video clips show Nunez’s helper riding on the back of the truck moments before the crash, and inside the cabin immediately following it — which the lawyer said doesn’t add up. An eyewitness claimed to see Nunez’s helper in the vehicle at the time of the collision, according to police.

This newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Law request on Jan. 17 for evidence from the fatal crash, including video, now that the case is closed, but the city denied it, claiming the release of such information would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

And Local 813 rep Borrero, former Action driver Henry, and the anonymous employee still working for the company said that all of its trucks should be equipped with two cameras.

“Action has cameras equipped in their trucks that face inside in the cab and face out into the street,” Borrero said.

Henry, who left Action in 2014, said he remembers the first cameras being installed around 2013, and the driver currently employed by the company said its trucks are equipped with the technology.

“They started putting cameras in, maybe, 2013, so it’s hard to believe [Nunez’s] truck didn’t have a camera,” Henry said. “Anything is a possibility, but in my perspective, when I worked there, once they started using them, the cameras worked every day.”

But the district attorney’s rep Oren Yaniv claimed the truck Nunez drove when he hit Ramirez had no cameras.

Frydman declined to comment on whether all of its trucks are equipped with cameras and how many vehicles are in its fleet — but last December, months after Nunez hit and killed Ramirez, another company rep claimed it would finish installing the technology in all of its trucks by the end of 2017, garbage blog Waste360 reported.

The Greenpoint cyclist isn’t the only victim of Action’s drivers — at least fourteen people filed civil suits against the company since 2012, after collisions with its trucks left them either severely or mildly injured, court records show. Five of those lawsuits were settled out of court, according to the records, which don’t specify each settlement’s details.

And Action’s truckers have hit and killed five people, including Ramirez, in the last decade, according to multiple reports. In 2008, an employee plowed into British tourists Andrew Hardie and Jacklyn Timmons in Manhattan, and another Action trucker ran over 24-year-old cyclist Timothy “TJ” Campbell in Williamsburg later that year. And in 2011, a driver backed over Mark Chanko in Manhattan.

Borrero said the last time he remembers cops cuffing an Action driver for a fatal collision was in response to the 2008 double fatality, when the employee hit and killed the two pedestrians after suffering a seizure while behind the wheel.

Authorities charged the driver with manslaughter and negligent homicide because they said he chose not to take his medication before operating his vehicle and, according to both Borrero and a New York Times report, did not disclose his health condition when applying for a commercial license.

“He falsified the medical exam, and he did go to jail,” Borrero said.

But deadly collisions are also devastating to those drivers who don’t intend to harm anyone when they get behind the wheel, he said.

“My worst nightmare is having to deal with my members in sanitation getting involved in some kind of fatality,” Borrero said. “We don’t go out there looking to purposely hit people.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:49 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

JS from LES says:
"“They should have a lot more drivers on the road" - how about NO. I'm not even sure that their terrible driving record is fully attributable to the hours they work. Truck drivers, as a whole, are a reckless, coarse minded bunch. Same goes for bus drivers, taxi drivers, Access-A-Ride drivers and everyone else who drives for a living in this city. You're not exactly drawing these drivers from intellectual stock. They're usually the kind of guys who view fast, reckless driving as a sort of badge of masculine honor, and who view precaution and safety to be for "pussies." To be honest I see the same level of recklessness among ALL professional drivers in NYC, and the #1 problem that we need to address is a hopelessly impotent criminal justice system which gives these scumbags nothing more than symbolic wrist slaps when they kill or maim. We need legal reform so that when these morons get behind the wheel, they do so with the knowledge that their instinctive attitude toward driving is something that is going to land them in jail for 10 years. We need jail sentences for habitual red light blowers and non-yielders. We need automatic jail sentences for anyone who drives without a license. Speeding, turning across bike lanes without yielding - these are all crimes which abrogate people's basic right to life, and they should be fined heavily ($1000 ) on the first instance and result in heavy jail time after that. Let's clear the jails of people who are serving time for non-violent victimless offenses like possessing or selling pot, and use the space to start incarcerating these violent motorists.
Feb. 14, 9:21 am
Rob from NY says:
These crashes are a result of employer recklessness. Over-scheduled drivers. Distracting phone calls. Trucks without low cab forward design. These are not accidents; they are inevitable and preventable.

https://www.crashnotaccident.com/
Feb. 14, 11:10 am
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
^^^ I’ve never seen so many straw men in one post before. You forgot the all car drivers are fat asses though. It must suck to be so angry on a beautiful day like today. You should get a car and go for a drive. You are missing all the fun on your sad bike. ^^^
Feb. 14, 11:14 am
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
@JS from LES
Feb. 14, 11:15 am
Adrian from Ridgewood says:
It'll be hard for action carting to get more drivers now that people can find out about the horrible work conditions at Action Carting. Trash still needs to be taken away, but hopefully more people don't get killed by these trucks.
Feb. 14, 12:42 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Must be something about wearing spandex so tight that turns people into infantile morons. That would explain the Peter Pan complex to go along with the bike fetish. I almost feel bad for you sad pathetic losers. Almost. Try driving a car, and experience joy for once in your miserable lives. Until then, enjoy eating my exhaust fumes.
Feb. 14, 1:34 pm
Big joe from Bronx says:
This is all lies , this has never happened to me ,
Feb. 14, 1:36 pm
JS from LES says:
Henry Ford once again wantonly oblivious to the absolute carnage caused by psychotic drivers on the roads of New York, not to mention the thousands of people who die every year from health complications related to traffic pollution. Cyclists are doing none of this and thus are morally superior in every way.
Feb. 14, 3:37 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Car drivers are so morbidly obese that jacked up bike riders like not surprised only have the guts to call them fatasses anonymously on the internet. On the streets, where he would have to back up his words, the sad pathetic loser keeps his tail between his legs and pedals away with eyes averted.
Feb. 14, 3:45 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
@JS how would you possibly know what kind of vehicles I drive? Do you think I like giving my money to terrorists? Trust me on this, I spend as little as possible on gasoline.
Feb. 14, 3:47 pm
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
Chuckle @ is
Should have a laugh track
Feb. 14, 6:08 pm
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
@js that is
Feb. 14, 6:09 pm
JS from LES says:
Your rhetoric alone suggests that you're an aggressive, violent driver who enjoys menacing and threatening other road users from the safety of his vehicle. People like you are like vermin in this city.
Feb. 14, 6:55 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Ha! It wasn’t me, I wouldn’t even call that pathetic whining from an internet warrior abuse. This site isn’t completely unmoderated, ya know.
Feb. 14, 6:56 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
JS, you might want to reread your original comment before you accuse anyone else of being unhinged.
Feb. 14, 7:06 pm
Guest from NYC says:
City needs to take over all sanitation. This is ridiculous.
Feb. 15, 1:47 am
billy the kid from Queens says:
Guest from NYC says:
City needs to take over all sanitation. This is ridiculous.......

and solve nothing , you'll have the same drivers Ahloe
Feb. 15, 12:59 pm
mr kim from Queens says:
why was my post taking down , ??????
local 813 is behind all of this and we know it, they have lost 80% of there members so lets talk trash about a non 813 shop
140 million in the hole and no where to go but to make up lies
Feb. 15, 1:02 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
I flagged your post all afternoon because my feelings were hurt. I don't work and my mom makes me lunch, so I have the time. Now to jaggoff to some scat videos.
Feb. 16, 9:59 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
We could have all trash pickup be done by the city in all areas, but then we will have those feeling that it will be communist takeover.
Feb. 17, 5:42 pm
Henry snowflake Ford from Bay ridge says:
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
I flagged your post all afternoon because my feelings were hurt. I don't work and my mom makes me lunch, so I have the time. Now to jaggoff to some scat videos.

LMAO just another snowflake loser with a 813 card , you'll never make a good living
Feb. 18, 9:31 am

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