Sanitation workers at Republic Services/ Allied Waste walked off the job early Thursday, leaving curbside trash in some parts of the Mahoning Valley and Pennsylvania — where the company serves more than 100,000 customers — uncollected.
Instead, the 110 workers set up picket lines at Republic’s Carbon Limestone Landfill in Lowellville and Allied Waste offices in Austintown.
Some trucks picked up trash, but it was unclear when the stalemate would end, as the company on Thursday did not specifically address the issue or answer any questions related to the strike.
“We learned this morning that members of Teamsters Local 377 decided to go on strike,” the company said in a statement. “We are learning more details and want to assure our customers that we are committed to meeting their waste and recycling needs in a timely manner and appreciate their patience as we move forward.”
Allied has a number of contracts with cities and townships in the region, but it does not serve Youngstown, where it picks up for businesses only. A company official said Allied will work as quickly as possible through today to pick up any trash left behind when workers walked off the job.
The strike stems from a lengthy impasse over contract negotiations. In October, Teamsters Local 377, which represents Allied Waste employees in Youngstown, rejected the company’s proposal to extend the contract, a move that gave the Teamsters freedom to strike.
In November, Douglas Dunn, general manager of Allied Waste in Youngstown, told The Vindicator he expected the union would not strike and instead continue with “good faith” negotiations. He added that the company has developed a contingency plan to continue service for its customers in the event of a strike.
A different picture emerged Thursday, however, as workers here claimed that the company is violating federal labor laws by changing working conditions without bargaining and refusing to provide timely information related to the process.
“For more than a year now, Republic has been trying to squeeze every last cent out of their workers by cheating them out of pay, ignoring health and safety protections, raising their health care costs and cutting their retirement benefits,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters general secretary-treasurer.
A major bone of contention for the Local 377 is the employees’ pension plan and the claim that other issues dealing with benefits were never resolved during bargaining, even as the company brought forward economic proposals about things such as wages.
Republic wants Teamsters to accept a change by shifting workers from the failing Central States Pension Fund to a 401(k) program. Under the 401(k), the company would match employee contributions dollar for dollar up to the first 3 percent of the salary and 50 cents for every dollar toward an additional 2 percent employee contribution.
Republic also is offering lump-sum payments of up to $50,000 for each employee to join the 401(k).
Both parties acknowledge that the deal would reduce the company’s pension contribution, but the current fund is expected to be insolvent by 2023. Republic also has asked employees in Youngstown to take on increased health care costs.
Meanwhile, sanitation workers in Evansville, Ind., and Urbana, Ill., took to picket lines Thursday in a show of solidarity for workers in Youngstown.
Over the weekend, approximately 320 Teamster employees in Michigan voted to leave the Central States fund and move into the healthier Western Conference of Teamsters Pension, meaning about one-third of Republic Services Teamsters have left the Central States fund altogether.
In 2012, Republic reported a profit of $571.8 million. Its stock was up by more than 1 percent Thursday, closing at $33 per share on the New York Stock Exchange. The company provides sanitation services in 39 states.