By Jamison Cocklin
Heading into its third week, the strike among 23 sanitation workers at Republic Services/Allied Waste once again ballooned Monday to include all of the company’s Youngstown workers.
The work stoppage threatens to disrupt trash-collection service indefinitely as the summer months approach.
Many of the 106 workers who first went on strike March 27 had returned to work April 3, but negotiations between Republic, one of the largest sanitation-services companies in the country, and members of Teamsters Local 377, which represents Youngstown workers, produced little results last week.
With picket lines extended to Columbus, Canton, Elyria and Cleveland and a separate strike underway in McDonough, Ga., more than 600 workers are now honoring the strike nationwide.
Douglas Dunn, general manager at Republic in Youngstown, asked for the patience of its customers as the company works to resolve the issue. In a statement Monday, he acknowledged that there would be delays in trash pickup. A company spokesman said Republic will turn once again to regional supervisors and nonunion employees to clear the company’s trash routes in the Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania, where Republic serves more than 100,000 customers.
Republic could not say what routes might immediately be affected, saying only that it was operating at about 50 percent in the Valley on Monday, making some scheduled pick-ups.
The company also acknowledged that no headway was made during negotiations last week.
Local 377, as well as Teamsters members in Georgia, allege that the company illegally has changed working conditions without bargaining and continues to refuse to provide pertinent information related to contract negotiations.
Teamsters International spokesman Leigh Strope said the union has filed three unfair-labor-practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees such disputes.
But Republic maintains that workers are refusing to accept a change in their retirement benefits and rejecting other economic proposals. Neither side seems willing to budge.
Republic wants its employees to exit the failing Teamsters’ Central States pension fund and instead shift benefits to a 401(k). With 60 cents of assets for every $1 in obligations, the fund is rated in “critical” status by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that supports failed pensions.
“Republic is using the Central States pension fund issue as a smokescreen,” Strope wrote in an email. “The real issue is Republic’s pattern of corporate greed, harassment, intimidation and abuse against workers.”
Strope added that the company is refusing to negotiate both economic and noneconomic issues, saying, “Republic is completely uninterested in reaching fair agreements for its workers.”
Meanwhile, townships and cities throughout the area are girding for a prolonged stand-off between both sides.
“If trash is still out at the curb longer than a week, we’ll begin to investigate the situation,” said Jim Davis, an Austintown trustee. “We’re not encouraging people to switch companies at this time, but if trash begins to pile up, we’ll seek other alternatives.”
Other officials across the Valley have said the same. Those in Canfield, Salem and Youngstown all said that trash is collected by multiple companies, including Allied, Waste Management, Ohio Valley Waste Service and Allison Brothers.
If the situation becomes unbearable, most said they would consider dropping Republic, the only sanitation company with union representation in the region.
The 106 workers in Youngstown, as well as other Republic workers across the country, went back on strike early Monday morning. Other picket lines in Indiana, Illinois and California have been extended as well.