In coastal Orange County, south of Los Angeles, 400 sanitation workers went on strike Dec.9 against Republic Services, the second-largest waste management company in the United States. The workers, members of Local 396 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike on November 23.
Following a declaration of waste emergency by the City of Huntington Beach, one of the two hotbeds of the strike (along with the City of Anaheim), Local 396 of Teamsters and Republic Services announced the December 16, a tentative agreement for workers in Anaheim and Huntington Beach. Anaheim officials said residents will see regular garbage collection resume Thursday and Friday.
“After several bargaining sessions with Republic Services, Teamsters Local 396 has now reached a tentative agreement with the company that includes a commitment to stop engaging in unfair labor practices and a fair contract for workers. Anaheim and Huntington Beach, ”the union said.
No further details were given and no date for a contract vote was set. Negotiations were said to have stalled after their contract expired on September 30. In question, the unfair practices of the management and the threats of reprisals against the workers who engage in union activities.
As the Orange County strike was being settled, 250 sanitation workers, also employed by Republic Services, voted in favor of a strike in North County, a northern suburb of San Diego, for similar questions. Once again, the problem described by the union announcements was that of the “unfair labor practices” of the services of the Republic. Wages and working conditions were not mentioned as problems in either of the two struggles.
However, workers in both regions complain of low wages, grueling 14-hour shifts, the use of casual labor as well as management harassment of workers who complain or present grievances. Hourly wages at Republic Services range from $ 13 to $ 21 per hour and an average of $ 19; not a living wage for Southern California households.
Adan Alvarez, an official with Teamster Local 396, reported that management has let workers know they will be “in trouble” if they appear in interviews or in pictures.
Republic Services, a Phoenix-based waste management company that operates across the United States, has been at war with its workers since the 2019 strike wave. On November 21, 2019, members of Teamsters Local 25 in Marshfield, Massachusetts , voted against an eight-week strike and collectively resign from their jobs, despite verbal support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. After the struggle in Marshfield, strikes were seen in Washington, Georgia and California the same year.
In each case, these struggles were kept in isolation by the Teamsters bureaucracy, which on each occasion refused to call a national strike against Republic or any other company in the waste management industry.
The private waste management industry is dominated by an oligopoly of seven companies that monopolize waste disposal, with revenues of over $ 1 billion and tens of thousands of workers. These companies have become more concentrated over the past year, absorbing smaller competitors and generating super profits for their shareholders and CEOs. The top four companies are: Waste Management Inc. ($ 14.5 billion in revenue in 2020, or over 20% of total industry revenue, 42,300 workers), Republic Services ($ 9.4 billion, 31,000 workers), Stericycle ($ 3.6 billion, 23,200 workers), and Clean Harbors ($ 3 billion, 12,700 workers).
The industry’s relationship with the Teamsters Union is key to this process. As this industry and others became more and more monopolized, the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO renounced national contracts and national strikes, limiting their contracts to regional units of these mega-corporations in order to isolate the struggles. locally. This strategy resulted in 400 workers on strike in Orange County and 250 workers voting in favor of the strike in San Diego, left alone to fight against the conditions common to all departments of the Republic and workers of the Republic. waste management.
Currently, Republic has 7,000 Teamsters employees. It uses 16,000 trucks and operates 76 processing centers and 186 landfills.
In the recent words of John Vander Ark, President and CEO of Republic: 2021 “already represents the highest level of investment in acquisitions [of waste management firms] in over a decade. Our acquisition pipeline remains strong, with many opportunities in the recycling and solid waste businesses and in our environmental solutions business. In addition, Republic has invested heavily in share buybacks to increase shareholder returns.
All of these profits are based on the overexploitation of labor, made possible by the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters.
The challenges of this struggle are a microcosm of the conditions faced by workers at Republic Services and the entire waste management sector: accelerations, poverty wages, piecework and casual work.
“Teamsters United Local 396”, the Facebook page of the union’s “Teamsters United” faction, has yet to take a position on the sudden end of the strike. Throughout the seven-day Orange County strike, the Teamsters offered no alternatives to the leadership of Local 396, filling its page with blank statements such as, “Support the L396 Sanitation Members.” Keep strong siblings.
The results of this sudden and unexplained “settlement” with Republic Services are an indication that Teamsters members are ready for more sold-out deals in more isolated struggles.
There is no doubt that this settlement, like the dozens of similar settlements this year by the Teamsters and other unions, is in the best interests of big business.
The Teamsters and its sister organization, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), were involved in the recent national elections which replaced the official leadership of James Hoffa Jr. with the Teamsters United (TU) list —Sean O’Brien for General President and Fred Zuckerman for General Secretary-Treasurer – based on “militant” promises to lead the fight to organize Amazon workers and “confront” UPS. “[Y]ou better put on your helmet because it’s a full contact sport, ”Zuckerman said in a debate, with a number of other empty phrases promising to lead a fight.
The World Socialist Web Site analyzed this change in leadership a month ago.
The victory of O’Brian and Zuckerman (79% of the voters, against 27% for the official candidates), which took place under conditions of very low participation from the base, is part of a bureaucratic strategy to paint de new faces on the corporate policy of the leadership of Hoffa.
That groups like the TU and TDU, as well as the pseudo-left, have supported O’Brien and Zuckerman must serve as a warning to all workers: the lesson of the fight against Republic Services is that the rejection of the TU / The TDU Teamsters “reform” is needed. The building of grassroots committees in waste management and in each division of the Teamsters is urgently needed to lead the fight for wages and working conditions at the national level, to nationalize monopolies and giant companies such as Republic Services and place them under the control of the workers.