Long-awaited contract negotiations got underway Tuesday between Republic Services/Allied Waste and Teamsters Local 377, which represents 103 sanitation workers employed by the company in the Mahoning Valley.
The relationship between the two sides has been strained since October, when the workers’ contract expired, leaving a host of issues — including those dealing with retirement benefits, health care, wages and labor practices — to percolate.
The situation reached loggerheads March 27 when 22 workers at Republic’s Carbon Limestone Landfill, a waste dump in Lowellville, walked off the job. The picket lines they set up prompted the remaining workers, including drivers and maintenance technicians, to honor the strike — leaving curbside trash uncollected throughout parts of the Valley and Western Pennsylvania for more than a week.
Given the length of the dispute and the intricacies involved with the impasse, both sides said it was unlikely that certain grievances would be worked out in a day’s time. Negotiations are expected to continue today.
Local 377 contends that both economic and noneconomic issues such as unfair labor practices are at the center of the stalemate. Both sides have looked to the National Labor Relations Board to investigate their complaints.
Also problematic to any potential resolution, say those close to the negotiations, is Republic’s national fight with its thousands of employees represented by local chapters of the Teamsters International Union.
The company wants employees to shift their retirement benefits from the weak Central States Pension Fund to a 401(k), something workers in Youngstown and elsewhere say would mean a significant reduction in their savings plans.
Though drivers and maintenance technicians went back to work here last week to get caught up on trash collection, a solidarity movement supporting the Youngstown strike has spread to the Cleveland region and beyond — to places such as Northern California, where several communities have been affected.
The 22 landfill workers at Republic remain on strike.