Solidarity key to Teamster victory in Alabama

Nearly 78 years ago, Teamsters in Minneapolis used rolling picket lines to win union recognition for drivers and warehouse workers. Carloads of strikers were dispatched to loading docks around the city where they set up picket lines to interrupt commerce. The rolling pickets and the solidarity they engendered led to a deal with an anti-union employers association.  When employers backed out of the deal, workers resumed the rolling pickets. The tactic and striker solidarity finally paid off, and the employers signed and abided by an agreement that ended the strike.

Last week, the Teamsters used a similar strategy on a national scale to win a fair contract for 24 sanitation truck drivers and workers in Prichard, Alabama, near Mobile. The problem began in February when members of Teamsters Local 991 were about to vote on a new contract with their employer Republic/Allied Waste Services, the second largest waste and recycling company in the US.

Shortly before, the vote was to begin, the company announced that it was backing out of the agreement because it wanted to pay less for health care coverage for workers’ families.

About a month later on March 22, members of local 991 went on strike charging Republic with violations of US labor laws for backing out of a deal that had been negotiated.

The odds for a fair settlement weren’t good. Republic is a multi-billion corporation, and the 24 strikers live and work in a union-hostile state.

But shortly after the strike began, Teamsters locals in Buffalo, New York and Columbus, Ohio established sympathy picket lines at Republic facilities, which workers refused to cross.

On Monday, March 26, the company began using replacement workers to pick up garbage in Prichard and other nearby communities.

A few days later Local 991 members Steve Burroughs and Eugene Rider flew to Seattle to join sympathy picket lines in the Seattle area organized by Teamster Joint Council 28. On Thursday, March 29 Seattle-area Teamsters and community supporters set up sympathy picket lines at four Republic facilities. About 250 Teamsters working for Republic refused to cross the picket lines, shutting down garbage collection services for about 60,000 customers.

“Our contracts have language that allows workers to exercise their right to honor a picket line and refuse to cross or work behind it without retribution,” said Teamster spokesperson Tracey Thompson to KING 5 News.

The next day Republic returned to the bargaining table in Prichard, and on April 2, the Teamsters’ national office announced that the strike had been settled. “The strike ended on Friday when Republic agreed to meet with Local 991, and the disputed contract was unanimously ratified yesterday (Sunday) by the (Prichard)  workers,” said Robert Morales, director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling, and Related Industries Division.

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