Garbage trucks roll, but labor strife still roils
By Jamison Cocklin
Even as workers for Allied Waste ended their strike and returned to their regular routes for garbage pickup, labor tension among the union members has not cooled down.
Customers throughout the Mahoning Valley still waiting for their trash and recyclables to be collected should expect service to resume on schedule this week, company officials said Monday.
The news came as a relief for some communities, where trash has piled up since April 15, when 83 drivers with Republic Services/Allied Waste went on a solidarity strike to show support for 23 workers at the company’s Carbon Limestone Landfill in Poland Township, who had been on strike since March 27.
Though all 106 workers, represented by Teamsters International Local 377, lifted picket lines over the weekend, headwinds still remain as both sides plan to meet today and Wednesday during a new round of bargaining to discuss disagreements ranging from unfair labor practices to wages and retirement benefits.
“We care about the communities we live and work in. We don’t like seeing the trash piling up and our neighbors being upset by the filth,” said John Overly, a worker at Republic’s landfill. “That’s why we’re going back to work — for now — because we really want to clean up our neighborhoods.”
Republic works on a biweekly schedule. Recyclable collection throughout the region was suspended indefinitely last week, but according to a company spokesman, residents who were scheduled to put out their recyclables this week should do so and expect to have them picked up normally.
Those regularly scheduled for next week can expect the same.
Municipal contracts in areas such as Liberty, Girard, Cortland and Campbell were prioritized last week, but the company was on a three-day delay as of Friday.
Republic plans to work through Saturday to collect any leftover trash. Subscription customers — those with individual contracts in areas such as Boardman, Austintown and Poland — were the hardest hit.
But now that the company has returned to full capacity, with more than 80 drivers on the roads, customers in all locations should expect trash collection to occur on schedule this week, a spokesman said.
Republic was offering to credit customer accounts last week for those who called in experiencing delays, but that is no longer an option now that the company is back on its regular schedule.
Meanwhile, Teamsters International continued talking tough on Monday, refusing to back down from claims of unfair labor practices.
“Contrary to Republic’s assertions that the single issue is a pension, there are many issues that need to be addressed,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters general secretary treasurer in Washington, D.C. “I’ve urged the company to come back to the table over the next two to three weeks and resolve all outstanding issues, including the pension.”
Teamsters allege that the company broke federal labor laws by changing working conditions, but it has offered few specifics to date. Hall added that separate strikes and solidarity movements at 20 facilities in five states among Republic workers is evidence enough of a pervasive pattern of abuse against its workers across the country.
The company has said that a proposed switch in retirement benefits from a faltering pension fund overseen by the Teamsters union to a 401(k) plan has made workers restive and uncooperative.
Allied Waste of Toledo filed a lawsuit against Teamsters Local 377 last week alleging the union violated federal labor law by influencing workers there to strike in support — which the company contends interfered with its business operations.
What’s next in those proceedings is unclear; lawyers representing Allied’s Toledo outfit could not be reached to comment Monday.
Many other strikes, including a separate one among Republic workers in Georgia, were suspended over the weekend as well.