by Ben Parry, CEO
Compost Crew employs 21 people, 60% of whom are black. 80% of our drivers – the heart and soul of our food scrap collection operation – are black. In normal times I would not find it important to report these numbers. I mention it now because I want to raise a few topics, in light of the latest in a string of racial crises in our nation.
Most feedback we receive from customers is in praise of our drivers, and we thank you for that. But you should know our drivers have reported several incidents of possible discrimination while working. Most recently, one of our safest and most professional drivers was verbally abused by a white male in a wealthy neighborhood while working. Our GPS records showed our worker was driving safely.
Drivers have reported other conditions which made them feel unsafe. Some customers leave their bins on their porch, rather than at the curb. To beat the traffic and make it to the compost facility before it closes, many routes start by 4am. In these times, can you imagine how a black man feels approaching a stranger’s doorstep in the dark at 5am? Our workers have reported incidents of homeowners yelling at them, before seeing the Compost Crew truck.
Fortunately, we have not experienced any physical altercations or serious incidents. Nonetheless, we want our drivers to feel safe. Just one fit of rage or fear can result in serious injury or death.
Compost Crew is taking the following actions to further protect the health and safety of our team:
Action #1: We are formally amending our Health and Safety policy to require immediate reporting of possible incidents of discrimination hate, or similar incidents in which an employee feels unsafe. Employees will report these incidents to their immediate supervisor, who will escalate the reports to me.
Action #2: We request that our customers start leaving their bins in a visible location at their curbside or end of the driveway, rather than at the front step or other hard-to-find location near the house.
A related topic I think about regularly is the impact of discrimination on inequality. A disproportionate number of applicants to our driver position are black. Approximately 35% of our employees who work in the office are black, compared to 80% of drivers. Typical starting pay for our drivers is $18-$24 per hour, which significantly exceeds Maryland’s minimum wage. We would love to pay more, but food waste collection is a low-margin business, at least until we reach a larger scale. We are committed to equal pay for equal work for all employees in our company.
We need to continue pushing to understand why an overwhelming majority of people willing to start at a lower pay in a job many consider dirty (I consider it glorious) are black. Many lack the pedigree required to land a higher paying job, some have been incarcerated and need a break, some have been unlucky for other reasons. Discrimination – past and present – is a common thread between all these factors.
Action #3: We have committed to explore ways to break this cycle of inequality. We have already increased driver pay at least 25% since 2018 while adding medical benefits, life insurance and a 401K plan. We offer profit sharing to qualified drivers who have been with us for at least one year. We will continue to do more, not just to increase compensation, but increase opportunities to advance and be involved in different aspects of the business.
As a private business that needs to earn its own living, we can only do so much. I urge everyone to consider how they can help. It is not enough to make occasional statements via Twitter. While voting is vital, people should not be absolved just by casting a single vote. We all need to consider the impacts of our everyday decisions. Basic decisions about who to hire, fire, promote, discipline, and train can make differences that ripple through generations.
I welcome your feedback on how we can do better.
thank you – great blog, addressing both personal and systemic racism. so sorry that some people have been abusive of your workers. uugh. thanks for sharing that information.
Thank you, Jennifer and to everyone who responded. We were overwhelmed by the response to the blog post. We appreciate the supportive comments and the good suggestions, all of which we will take under consideration.
Thank you for that blog and for your efforts to ensure the safety and the fair pay/benefits of your awesome staff!
Thank you for this post. As a white person, I would have never thought about the fact that this job would cause fear in a driver who arrives and must approach a home in the dark to do their job. Please know that your drivers are safe on our property and thank you for being a thoughtful business owner and boss.
Thanks for introducing us to your employees and to their concerns.
Regarding the statement “some have been unlucky for other reasons,” as a white person it has been brought home to me in the past days that it’s less “luck” and more “privilege.” “Unlucky” can be explained by discrimination perhaps even more than something attributable to the fates. If we seek peace, we have to work for justice. Thank you for speaking out.
Mary Beth Mallon
Great message. Your drivers have been nothing but kind when I see them! Thanks for your honesty and commitment to bettering yourself, your company and others. We are keeping our eyes open in ways we can act ourselves. It is comforting to do business with a company that is committed to equality. Thank you!
You might see if there is some way you could help/subsidize additional training or education for your employees. As an example, maybe you could look into making some arrangement with Montgomery College so that employees who want to can work toward a degree.
With each correspondence I receive I feel better and better about my relationship with this company. Proud to be a Compost Crew customer!
Appreciate your Blog on how to protect Compost Crew drivers and improve race relations pro-actively, and information on demographic composition of Compost Crew staff members, pay and benefits. I approve of your advocacy and policies.
Thank you for this statement, and your support of your staff as well as your support of justice. I would like to thank the crew who picks up at our house in 22046, who always do a nice job. I have never met them, but I wonder if you could set up a system for tipping our drivers – especially during this covid mess, I have appreciated all the people who are out working with the public. (We were leaving treats, but I got scared I might be spreading something after our mailperson fell ill.)
Bravo!! You did not have to say a word about any of your business workings but I thank you for the insight. I am proud to be part of the composting effort. I am now prouder to be part of an organization that is so thoughtful. Thank you for the work!
On a personal note, I had trouble with my bin disappearing when placed in my alley. The driver and my brother decided the best place was my front stoop. I will comply with whatever you request for pick up. There is no discrimination or angry outburst that will happen at my doorstep. Thanks again.
Beyhan Cagri Trock
Wow. We are new to the neighborhood and just started your service this week. We are thrilled to receive a letter like this from you. Especially when the world seems to be falling apart. Thank you for that. We left a more “upscale” neighborhood because of the rampant disregard for the safety, welfare, and dignity of all the people who come in to the neighborhood to make their lives easier. Getting this letter from you confirms that we have moved to the right place with people more like us. It’s great to feel part of a community. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for this terrific and timely statement. I agree with every bit of it. I’m devastated to read of the inexcusable treatment of one of your drivers by some entitled jerk. I value your service and am grateful to everyone who works at Compost Crew. Thank you.
Oh my gosh, how beautifully and heartfully and compassionately said. Equally important is the conviction and the proactivity which permeate your message and your business. I am more glad than ever that I chose Compost Crew. You are inspiring and you have motivated me to search for ways to do something worthwhile.
My family has been a Compost Crew Customer for several years. We appreciate the service and the people who are part of the crew have always been courteous and respectful. I have just read your letter aloud to my family and we are so appreciative that you took the time to address these racial issues head on! It sparked continued discussion amongst my family for the two hour car ride. Thank you!
Thank your for informing us about your staff and your management. You are the kind of people this country need. Thank you for what you do. Mrs. Chen
Thank you for standing up for and supporting your employees. As a former HR person I know how critical this support is and how seldom it is given. Keep up the good work and if you ever need pro bono HR/payroll advice I encourage you to contact me. I would be honored to help.
Mary Martha Churchman
thank you for hiring formerly incarcerated individuals on your team and compensating drivers well. And thank you for the thoughtful soul searching about your practices you express in this post. I’m proud to be your customer. I leave my pail at the end of the driveway and it magically gets emptied and re-bagged. Ive never seen your driver but I thank him/her.
You’ve earned our business because of your mission and reliable service. You’ve now earned our loyalty because of this expression of your corporate values. When I place my bin on the curb next week, I won’t just be committing to do my part to save the planet, I’ll also be committing to what kind of planet I hope that will be.
I don’t have an immediate suggestion to help your crew. I just want to say that my family stands behind whatever actions you take. You provide such an important service for the environment. Please thank everyone on your team.
I wasn’t sure what Compost Crew would have to offer on this topic — but I’m so glad I clicked through! Thanks for all you are doing and for pressing each of us to do more. I love our driver, John, appreciate Compost Crew’s service (and would be willing to pay more for it, especially knowing your ethical practices). Thank you again.
Thank you for your leadership and sharing your thoughts and actions. We may have finally found footing to pivot to real and fundamental change.
Thank you for this letter. I will be sure to put my bucket closer to the curb. We love our Compost Crew service and the drivers are always professional and QUIET! Our driver picks up our compost while we are all still asleep and we never hear our driver. Your services are invaluable and I hope our driver feels safe in our neighborhood.
I have appreciated this service, and now I know more about corporate values, I feel pride in being a small part of this rich ecosystem; it helps me conduct my life according to my personal code in ways that help the environment and support jobs that pay a living wage.
Thank you for this very thoughtful blog. For being so conscious about your policies. And for your great service.
Thank you for sharing this. Please thank your crew for their continuing commitment despite having been made to feel unwelcome. I look forward to a day when the precautions you have instituted to protect your workers are no longer necessary.
I had no idea your drivers were experiencing any kind of harassment. From now on I will leave my bin closer to the curb. I’m glad I am supporting your business. I would like to forward your blog to others. Can you tell me how? Thanks.
THANK YOU for this thoughtful letter but even more so, for your thoughtful action. I am proud to be a Compost Crew customer.
I was so pleased to learn more about your company and am thrilled with your attitude and concern for your employees. May all stay safe. The driver should not be required to pick up at a given address if the bin isn’t put out curbside. THanks for all you do.
I love your service, this message, and the steps you are taking to address the systemic racism that undermines us all.
Thanks for keeping us informed. Sad to hear there’s ever any issues, but I guess, not surprised…. I really appreciate all you guys are doing, and my bin is always at the curb. Since you asked for suggestions, here goes. What holds most people back in this life is poor educational opportunity. So how about promoting employee education/certification a field of their choice? Set up a fund (a 529?) where a % of wages get deposited each pay period and matched by the employer, to be used for tuition fees? Just a thought…
Thank you for your expression of compassion, inclusion and community building. Long time client, now forever! You are truly a local, caring company.
You’re a great company. Thanks for this blog. I admire the reliability of the drivers. A year ago we had a problem with putting the can at the end of the driveway because someone backing up ran it over and dragged it down the block. Not one of your guys, of course, but since then we have left it higher on the driveway, still visible from the street. That has worked well. But I appreciate your suggestion to make it easy for them to handle the cans quickly.
Thank you for another reminder of what a great organization this is!
thanks for all you do
Melissa Mehlman Urofsky
Hi Ben! I’m sorry for such a late reply. Although my response is tardy, your sobering message has not been forgotten, and in fact, has grated on me these past months. I want to commend you for speaking out against racism and thoughtless entitlement and praise you for increasing driver pay, adding medical benefits, life insurance, profit sharing and a 401k plan. I wholeheartedly support those initiatives and intend to put my money where my mouth is, by paying more to support a respectable, livable wage. I am a relatively new customer and have been very pleased with your service, making it easy for me to participate in protecting our environment. I was reminded to write this note because I saw your stand at Bethesda’s Farmers Market last week. I hope one day I will have the chance to meet you. Thank you for your service!