Rare Rolling Sympathy Strike Beats Garbage Company That Tries to Trash Its Promise
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Local 991 business agent Levon “Rooster” Lindsey said Wednesday that in negotiations with Republic, the union agreed to accept modest wage increases in order to achieve improvements in workers’ health insurance. Workers will now pay 25% of the insurance plan’s cost – still a potentially heavy burden, but better than the roughly 39% workers pay now. Lindsey, a former Republic worker, said the extra $100 fee for spouses was designed to discourage workers from putting them on the plan: “They’re actually trying to force people off of their insurance to save money.” As for the cigarette fee, which Republic rolled out recently across the country, Stiles said Tuesday that the company’s stubbornness was rooted in fear: if union members were able to escape the unpopular fee, non-union workers could be inspired to organize. “It’s really to keep us from organizing more workers,” said Stiles. Nationwide, 27% of Republic’s 30,000 workers are union.
In an e-mailed statement Thursday afternoon, a Republic spokesperson said the company was “currently negotiating in good faith with the Teamsters Local 991” and “are dedicated to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement…Garbage collection is a public health issue and a work stoppage penalizes the public.” Republic declined to comment on the union’s allegations. But the Teamsters say no negotiations took place from before the strike began until Friday, the day a settlement was reached to end it.
In a statement released at the beginning of the strike, Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division Director Bob Morales said backtracking on the Alabama contract agreement was part of a pattern: “In the last year, Republic has increasingly tried to intimidate, harass and bully its employees to the detriment of both workers and customers.” The union said that included attempts to deny Kansas City, Missouri workers overtime pay and end Canton, Ohio workers’ health care plan – all at a time when the company just declared $589 million in profit last year.
Republic has a “Blue Crew” designed to maintain production during strikes, composed of both management and non-union employees. But a TV report on Alabama’s 13 News showed a pile of garbage growing due to the strike. Workers said the supervisors assigned to do their jobs haven’t been able to get the job done. “They’re tying the trucks up left and right,” Wing said Wednesday. “Apparently they don’t know what they’re doing.” The union said the company damaged its reputation in the community by lying about the cause of disruptions early on – blaming it on faulty equipment rather than the strike.
Some workers canvassed door to door seeking community support, and they said they’ve been receiving plenty. “I saw some non-union trash workers bring cash by to the guys, just to say we realize your fight is for the standards for all of us…” Stiles said Tuesday. “They realize this group is what’s holding standards up in Mobile.”
Reached during a Wednesday picket, the Alabama strikers said having workers in Columbus, Buffalo, and now Seattle strike to support them boosted their spirits and their confidence. “I think it’s awesome,” said McLean. “It shows the brotherhood is strong, no matter where you’re at.”
A Striking Strategy
“Employers have always hated solidarity strikes and general strikes,” said Joe Burns, the author of Reviving the Strike and a negotiator for the Association of Flight Attendants, a Communications Workers of America affiliate.
Solidarity strikes are rare in part because labor law, while protecting the right to strike, restricts workers’ ability to spread a strike from one workplace to another. Where some archetypal American strikes took on a whole industry, or a city, or all the players in a supply chain, today the strikes protected by the National Labor Relations Act are generally restricted to a certain company at a single location. Historically, says Burns, “workers understood that to be successful, they needed to broaden their struggle and pull large numbers of workers into their fight…We don’t see those types of strikes today, because they’ve been outlawed by 70 years of legislation and court decisions.”