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Recycling Wars: Company Sues Ann Arbor for Wrongful Termination

Last month, the city of Ann Arbor abruptly ended its contract with ReCommunity, the company in charge of operations at the Platt Road recycling plant. Now, ReCommunity is suing the city for wrongful termination.

Ann Arbor officials claim that the firing was a result of repeated safety concerns and violations at the plant, including two severe worker injuries within the past year.

“Worker safety, public safety, kind of trumps everything else,” said City Administrator Howard Lazarus, who made the final decision to terminate the contract.

ReCommunity, though, argues that the city was looking for excuses to get out of a contract that was no longer financially feasible to them after a downturn in the recycling market, and that the plant was in dire need of support and upgrades that were continually denied.

“Safety is paramount to ReCommunity, and taking efforts to ensure a safe working environment for its employees is a major focus of ReCommunity at all of its facilities,” said Michael Hindelang, the company’s lawyer.

ReCommunity is also facing a disputed workers compensation claim after a heavy piece of machinery fell onto a technician’s arm, severing his muscles and tendons and leaving him unable to use his grip.

Another injury took place last year when a worker had his foot crushed under a bin that was being carried by a forklift. Most safety workboots require a protective toe cap with an impact resistance rating of 50 or 75, but that wasn’t enough to protect from the weight of the bin.

“The company can’t comment on any specific incidents,” Hindelang said, “but in general the safety of employees is very important to ReCommunity, and ReCommunity has significant training and safety resources — and injury prevention resources — in place.”

The city also noted fire hazards, unsecured areas, chemical spills, and more during its safety inspection in June.

ReCommunity president Sean Duffy maintains that the conditions were a result of the city’s lack of financial and structural support for the plant.

“It’s always ongoing repairs or maintenance that we’re doing within those facilities,” Duffy said. “The type of business that we run is not the easiest business out there.”

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