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.