Faced with the possibility that some of their fellow union members may lose their pensions, more than 1,000 Teamsters in 19 cities held “practice picketing” sessions at facilities owned by Republic/Allied Waste Services, the second largest private sanitation company in the US.
When contracts between Teamster locals and Republic, which reported revenues of $8.2 billion in 2011, come up for renewal, the company is demanding that it be allowed to replace the current Teamster pension benefit with a 401(k) savings plan.
Among Teamsters who practiced picketing were members of Teamster Local 984 in Memphis, who are currently working without a contract. The local and Republic have been negotiating a new contract, which recently expired.
The company wants to stop making contributions to the Teamsters’ pension fund and instead set up 401(k) savings plans for workers. It would match the first 3 percent of worker contributions to the plan and half of the next 2 percent of worker contributions.
Doing so according to union officials will save the company money at the expense of workers’ retirement security. Republic management told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that it didn’t know whether the change would save the company money.
While Republic is seeking concessions from its workers, it has been far more generous to its shareholders, including Bill Gates, who, according to the Teamsters, owns about $2 billion worth of Republic stock, making him the company’s largest shareholder.
Republic reported $149.2 million in second quarter 2012 profits, up 220 percent from the second quarter of 2011, resulting in a 7 percent quarterly dividend for shareholders.
To counter the company’s concession demands, the Memphis Teamsters voted earlier in October to authorize a strike if a new contract agreement could not be reached.
The company has flown in management personnel from around the country and has said that they will be used to continue sanitation services to Republic’s 200,000 customers in the Memphis area if the Teamsters go on strike or if a lockout occurs.
“The company is paying to bring these out-of-town guys in here and at the same time crying broke,” said Kevin Clark, a Local 984 member. “The company is making us train them, but they don’t know our routes. We pick up at hospitals. We pick up at schools and in neighborhoods with kids running around. From where I sit it looks like the company is more interested in throwing us to the curb than they are in taking care of customers and the community.”
Earlier this year, Republic locked out 80 Teamster Local 215 members in Evansville, Indiana over a similar dispute. The company wanted to replace the workers’ pension with a 401(k) plan. The workers rejected the company’s offer.
For six weeks, Local 215 stood its ground. During the lockout Local 215 members traveled to Republic facilities in other cities and set up picket lines, which fellow Teamsters and other union members refused to cross.
The one-day sympathy strikes disrupted Republic business in Urbana, Illinois, Wayne, Michigan, Milpitas, California, Richmond, California, and Long Beach, California.
About three weeks after the last sympathy strike, Republic management in Evansville agreed to suspend the lockout. The workers returned to work and the company and Local 215 returned to the bargaining table, but so far there has been no resolution to the dispute.
By organizing the practice picketing sessions at Republic facilities, the Teamsters appear to be reminding Republic that members throughout the country are willing to take solidarity actions to support other members who are facing the loss of an important benefit just as they did to support the Evansville workers.
“Today’s ‘just practicing’ picketing actions did not ask Republic/Allied employees to cease working,” read a statement issued by the Teamsters. “They were intended as a wake-up call to Republic/Allied executives and local elected officials that the company’s efforts to bully workers through locking them out of their jobs could instigate sympathy pickets at Republic facilities across America.”
In addition to Memphis and Evansville, Teamster sanitation workers practiced picketing at Republic facilities in Urbana, Illinois; Youngstown, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Flint, Michigan; Adrian, Michigan; Fremont, California; Daly City, California; Fairfield, California; Gardena, California; Long Beach, California; Anaheim, California; Revere, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Mobile, Alabama; Bellevue, Washingon; and Buffalo, New York.