Waste Company Locks Out Teamsters in Bid to Eliminate Pensions
At 9 p.m. Tuesday night, the country’s second-largest waste disposal company locked 79 workers out of their jobs. The day before, Republic Services/Allied Waste gave the Evansville, Ind., workers an ultimatum: accept management’s “last, best and final” offer, or be locked out of work. The union, Teamsters Local 215, blames the lockout on management’s insistence on permanently eliminating workers’ pensions.
"It's a kind of extraordinary move in labor relations to lock workers out unilaterally," says Louis Malizia, assistant director of the Teamsters Capital Strategies Department. "So there could be a return to work—the company need only open the gates and then let workers continue to work while they try to resolve issues at the bargaining table."
Republic Services did not respond to a request for comment, but in an interview with an NBC affiliate, local general manager Mark McKune blamed the conflict on the union’s rhetoric: “When threats of war were made across the table at the company, the company felt it was necessary to take this step.” Republic has a contract with the city of Evansville to collect trash and recycling. McKune told the Evansville Courier & Press that with replacement workers filling in for locked-out Teamsters, customers were experiencing only “minimal service disruptions.”
Local 215 represents Republic’s Evansville drivers, mechanics and landfill staff. Republic and the Teamsters entered negotiations on a new contract in March. In April, a 25-day extension on their current contract expired, and Republic began training other employees to do the work of the Evansville Teamsters. Tuesday night, Republic exercised its legal right to lock out the workers—denying them any work until they reach a deal acceptable to management.
While strikes decline in the United States, statistics suggest that lockouts are on the rise. As I reported last week, Teamsters in New York City have been locked out by Sotheby’s auction house for nine months.
Clark University Industrial Relations Professor Gary Chaison says that when an employer “is willing to so spoil their relationship that he’s willing to lockout workers,” they “can gain an edge in bargaining." Even the threat of a lockout, says Chaison, “is usually enough to get them to agree to far more in bargaining than they would” otherwise: “Unions will say, this is not the time and place for a fight, and they’ll settle for something less.”
Teamsters Local 215 says it offered to extend the current contract into the future, but Republic insisted on eliminating pensions and replacing them with a 401(k). In a Tuesday statement, Local 215 President Chuck Whobrey said, “It is outrageous that in the middle of negotiations Republic would start making threats to the jobs of 80 loyal workers. Our members provide a public health service to the city of Evansville, and they deserve to be able to retire with dignity. We are committed to the bargaining process, and these threats are uncalled for.”
The Teamsters and Republic have filed National Labor Relations Board charges against each other over alleged violations of federal labor law.
Whobrey told the Courier & Press that by locking out workers, Republic had “reneged” on an agreement to continue negotiations. Republic’s McKune told the paper that while Republic had never offered to move off of its final offer, “We told them they could call us or e-mail us at any time regarding our proposal. We haven’t heard anything.” Whobrey told the paper last week that workers would vote “sooner or later” on whether to accept management’s offer.