By Burton Speakman
Contract negotiations between Teamsters Local 377 in Youngstown and Republic Services/ Allied Waste have reached an impasse as the contract ended at 12:01 a.m. today, but both sides plan to continue working toward a deal and no disruption of service is expected.
The situation reached a stalemate after the union rejected a proposal to extend the contract. The rejection means the Teamsters are free to strike at any time. Allied Waste serves 8,900 customers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
The expectation is that the union will not strike and “good faith” negotiations will continue, said Douglas Dunn, general manager for Allied Waste Services in Youngstown.
The company wants Teamsters to accept a change shifting workers from a pension fund that is part of the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund, to a 401(k) program in which the company would match employee contribution dollar for dollar for the first 3 percent of the salary, and 50 cents for every dollar for an additional 2 percent contribution from the employee, Dunn said.
This would be a reduction in the company’s pension contribution, both parties acknowledge.
The company also is offering lump-sum payments for employees to start the 401(k) account of up to $50,000 each. “The pension fund is going to be insolvent by 2023,” Dunn said.
The expectation is that when the fund is insolvent, the pension insurance program will pay only about 30 cents on the dollar, Dunn said. There is no advantage to the employees for the company to continue to fund the pension.
Allied pays more than $450 per month per employee into the pension plan. The 401(k) would cost the company less per month, although the benefit would be offset at least initially by lump-sum payments, he said.
“There is no advantage to our employees to continue to fund the pension program,” Dunn said.
There are no plans for the Teamsters to strike, said Ralph Sam Cook, secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 377.
“We weren’t even through the noneconomic issues when last week they brought us this economic proposal,” Cook said. “There is no company that can guarantee what’s going to happen with the pension program or that can guarantee a 401(k) will be there for us.”
As far as the union is concerned negotiations will continue, he said. The last time a contract was negotiated with Allied there were 16 months when the Teamsters worked without a contract.
Cook said Republic chose to lock out employees in Evansville, Ind., when negotiations weren’t going well. At this point Teamsters do not anticipate being locked out.
“If they lock us out they’ll bring in blue crews from all over the country to run the routes. These guys won’t know the roads or the weather conditions and they make things more dangerous for the public,” he said.
In addition to the reduction in pension contribution the company also was asking the Teamsters to accept increased health care costs.
Dunn said Republic and the Teamsters have worked well together in the past and he expects that relationship will continue.
The company has developed a contingency plan to continue to serve customers if the Teamsters strike, he said.
The Teamsters in Youngstown were part of a national group Oct. 25 that picketed at various Republic Services/Allied Waste sites around the country.
“We see this happening all over the country. Republic holds the community hostage by threatening a public health and safety crisis to try and get workers to accept substandard conditions,” said Robert Morales, director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling and Related Industries Division. “This is the fourth-most dangerous job in the country. These workers literally put their lives on the line every day to protect the public health, and they deserve dignity and respect.”
Republic Services/Allied Waste’s drivers start at about $43,000 per year — an amount that is far higher than the average Youngstown salary of $25,902, according to a statement from the company.
These workers pick up the trash at as many as 700 homes in a night, Cook said.
“They earn their money,” he said.
The Teamsters argue that Republic Services/Allied Waste has total revenues that increased more than $8.2 billion in 2001, and the company earned $149.2 million in profits in the second quarter of 2012.