Teamster unfair labor practices strike spreads

An ufair labor practices strike by Republic/Allied Waste landfill workers in Youngstown, Ohio spread to five other Republic facilities in Ohio cities on April 15. Meanwhile in McDonough, Georgia another group of Republic workers began their own unfair labor practices strike.

“I’m on strike because I’m sick of this $8 billion company breaking the law to intimidate and bully us,” said Darrell Zeh, a Youngstown landfill worker and member of Teamsters Local 377. “We’re the ones who work every day to make them all that money. I’ve picketed now in three other cities, and the support has been overwhelming. Everyone seems to be fed up with this corporation’s greed.”

Members of Teamster Local 377 who work at Republic’s Youngstown landfill have been on strike since March 27. The striking workers and the company failed to reach an agreement on a new contract in October, but negotiations continued until the company began unilaterally implementing more than 50 new work rules, which prompted the walkout.

The strike in Youngstown is the latest skirmish between Republic and the Teamsters as the company seeks to lower worker health care and pension benefits and worsen working conditions one local at a time..

More than 2,000 Republic workers across the country are currently working without contracts. In Evansville, Indiana, Republic locked out its workers for six weeks last summer in an attempt to force concessions. In Mobile, Alabama, the company forced a strike by refusing to honor a binding contract. Republic workers in Memphis, staged a three-day unfair labor practices strike in January to protest the company’s refusal to pay safety bonuses and other contract violations.

“Republic has been bullying its workers by locking them out of their jobs without pay, withholding paychecks, and demanding contract concessions — even though the company makes hundreds of millions in profits each year,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters international general secretary-treasurer.

Teamsters have relied on solidarity to resist company bullying.

After the Youngstown landfill workers went on strike, they set up a picket line at another Youngstown Republic facility not on strike. Drivers and mechanics at the facility, who also belong to Local  377, refused to cross the pickets and stayed off work for about a week until the strikers moved their pickets to another location.

When Local 377 members showed up at a Republic facility is Evansville, Indiana, members of Teamsters Local 215, who remembered last summer’s lockout, refused to cross the picket.

From Evansville, the strikers moved to California where solidarity strikes at seven Republic facilities temporarily disrupted services.

The company and the Youngstown landfill workers returned to the bargaining table on April 8, but little progress has been made prompting Local 377 to send pickets today to Republic hauling yards in Youngstown, Columbus, Canton, Cleveland, and Elyria.

“When I started talking to my colleagues from other cities, we realized that Republic treats workers this way everywhere,” said Paul Auxer, a Republic driver in Columbus and Teamster Local 284 member. “We’ll be out as long as we need to be. When Round 2 comes–if it comes to that–we’ll be out here again supporting our brothers and sisters however it’s needed.”

As it negotiates new contracts with different Teamster locals, one of Republic’s common goals is to force locals to withdraw from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. In Youngstown and other locations, the company has proposed replacing the workers defined pension benefit administered by the Central States Pension Fund with a 401(k) plan that would cost the company less money.

Republic says that replacing the defined benefit plan with a 401(k) plan will be a better deal for the workers because the Central States Pension Fund is facing financial challenges. According to the Wall Street Journal, “investment losses and hard times for trucking companies that pay into the Central States Pension Fund have sapped the fund of money it uses to pay promised benefits.”

The Teamsters acknowledge that the pension fund is facing challenges, but steps have been taken to shore it up and withdrawing more employer contributions as Republic proposes will undermine these efforts.

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