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Teamster Sympathy Strikes Defeat Lockout

A series of one-day sympathy strikes by Teamsters in five cities helped convince the giant waste-hauler Republic Services to back off a six-week lockout of its workers.

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Although Republic is well aware which locations have the right to honor picket lines, and where the union seemed to be preparing, it still had difficulty reacting. Faced with a strike at the garbageman’s starting time of 1 a.m., managers scrambled to bring in the “Blue Crew,” supervisors and non-union workers from other locations.

The Teamsters said the crew didn’t usually arrive in time to be effective. “The garbage waits,” said Local 350 President Bob Morales. “In the meantime, we’re hoping residents are calling to the company and complaining,” Williams said.

In Milpitas, Ackman said, management added more overtime to workers’ usual 10-11 hours per day to get the garbage picked up later that week.

He said it didn’t faze members: “Whenever a union member of any union sees a picket line, it’s his fight.”

In Evansville, where the Blue Crew was doing locked-out members’ work, the city council had formally asked Republic to end the lockout.

Scott Williams said members had mixed feelings about returning to work and that he is “not so happy to be back to work without a contract.” Reached yesterday, his first day back, he said the international’s intervention and “the fact that after five weeks we didn’t say yes to the contract” led to the company’s decision to pull back.


Sympathy strikes have worked at Republic before. Workers in Mobile, Alabama, struck in March when the company tried to renege on a contract offer. They spread the strike to Buffalo, New York, Columbus, Ohio, and the Seattle area, and ended up reducing their portion of health insurance costs from 30-40 percent down to 25 percent.

But workers are worried about Republic’s long-term aim at their pensions. Marty Frates, president of Bay Area Local 70, says that if Republic can pull out of the Central States Pension Fund, which includes Evansville, it will come after Teamsters in other funds next.

Teamsters attended Republic’s May 17 shareholders meeting to oppose a management proposal that the CEO’s heirs get $23 million if he dies in office. They won 41 percent of the vote—despite the fact that Bill Gates owns 17 percent of the shares.

“I appealed to the shareholders,” Morales said. “How can you in one hand vote more benefits for this guy who makes a multimillion-dollar salary, and tell your poor workers ‘we want to get rid of your pension plan, and give it to this bastard’?”


Jane Slaughter is a staff writer with Labor Notes .

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