By Jamison Cocklin
The stalemate between Republic Services/Allied Waste and the 103 workers in Youngstown represented by Teamsters Local 377 appears to be nearing a resolution, after 81 of those union members returned to work Wednesday.
Drivers and those who help prepare trucks for their routes, such as maintenance technicians, headed back to work early Wednesday, after workers from the company’s Carbon Limestone Landfill, where trash is processed and buried, removed picket lines at Republic’s residential and commercial site where drivers report for work.
Ralph Sam Cook, secretary- treasurer of Local 377, said the 22 workers still on strike decided to pull the picket lines so drivers familiar with existing routes could aid in picking up leftover trash that’s been stranded since last week when the strike started.
“The landfill saw what was going on with the public,” Cook said. “The company isn’t even halfway done catching up, and they pulled back those picket lines so the drivers could get out and clean up the trash.”
The company has reported in recent days that most of its routes have been collected, but a company spokesman on Wednesday admitted that some catch-up still remains, as another week of new trash collection continues.
Republic brought in nonunion employees and regional supervisors to assist with trash collection while area workers were on strike. Those temporary workers were not familiar with the routes, a company spokesman said.
Ed Marino, who lives in New Castle, Pa., said Wednesday that his condominium development is still waiting for Allied to pick up the trash that has lined streets there for a week.
The company serves more than 100,000 customers in the Mahoning Valley and Pennsylvania.
Republic said customers who have not yet had their trash collected should call 1-800-437-1123.
Although both economic and noneconomic issues are at the heart of the strike, Cook stressed that Local 377 is not striking over its contract, but rather unfair labor practices.
When asked for specifics, Cook said he could not provide details because the National Labor Relations Board is investigating those claims.
Republic also contends the NLRB is looking into whether the strike was started illegally.
“The board will determine which is unlawful,” Cook added, referring to the NLRB. “There’s quite a few issues still on the table; local issues, health care, pension — it’s all still on the table.”
Republic has said the union never put forward a wage proposal, but Cook said Local 377 offered a comprehensive proposal in October. He also said the union never had a chance to vote on a contract, making it impossible for membership to reject one, as has been reported throughout the week.
Cook confirmed that pension issues remain at the center of the dispute.
Workers are angry over a proposal to shift their retirement benefits from the faltering Central States Pension Fund to a 401(k) program. Central States is expected to be insolvent by 2023, but the workers claim their benefits would be severely decreased if they agree to a switch.
“What’s the guarantee on that insolvency?” Cook asked. “The workers don’t want to switch. They made decent money and had a good return on their investments last year. The pension is the company’s beef.”
Last week, Republic touted 320 Teamsters employees in Michigan who switched from the Central States pension fund to the better-funded Western Conference of Teamsters Pension, suggesting Youngstown’s workers might be able to do the same.
Cook said no such offer was ever put forth, or even discussed.
“Republic Services/Allied Waste will continue to negotiate in a good-faith effort to secure a workable contract agreement,” said Doug Dunn, manager of Republic in Youngstown.
Both parties will meet for their next negotiating session Tuesday.