Workers beat back Waste Managements challenge

OAKLAND, Calif. — Residents and businesses here and in neighboring cities heaved a collective sigh of relief this week as garbage workers returned to work July 30 at Waste Management of Alameda County, proud that with support from other unions and the community they had turned back a corporate giant’s all-out union-busting drive. Within the first couple of days, neighborhoods where “replacement workers” had left garbage rotting for weeks were suddenly trash-free again.

Nearly four weeks after the company locked out 481 drivers represented by Teamsters Local 70, the drivers overwhelmingly approved a new five-year contract, 363-3. The new pact preserves health care benefits the company had challenged. New safety regulations preserve workers’ right to appeal alleged violations, a right the company also challenged. A no-strike, no-lockout clause in the contract upholds the union’s right to honor other unions’ picket lines. The pact also provides for yearly raises.

Union and management both expressed appreciation for the persistent work of Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums, who spent countless hours helping to mediate the talks.

“The best thing to emerge from the situation is being able to defeat Waste Management’s effort to drive its anti-union agenda,” Chuck Mack, Local 70 secretary-treasurer, said in a telephone interview. “They put a great deal of money and effort into trying to bully their way through, and they didn’t succeed.”

The results are important for the labor movement nationwide, Mack added, “because this is a case where a union was able to frustrate a major multinational corporation’s anti-union agenda.” Houston-based Waste Management, Inc., is North America’s largest solid waste firm, with operations in Canada and Puerto Rico as well as the United States.

Mack said Teamsters locals in Oregon, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have already requested copies of Local 70’s new contract.

Waste Management’s mechanics, represented by International Association of Machinists Local 1546, also returned to work after honoring round-the-clock picket lines Teamsters set up at all Waste Management facilities. But negotiations continue for their own new contract.

At a July 30 labor breakfast, some 300 recycling, landfill and clerical workers represented by Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union came in for special commendation for voluntarily honoring and walking the picket lines at the expense of their own paychecks. Many of these lowest-paid garbage workers are single mothers.

The breakfast, hosted by the labor councils of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, as well as the three garbage workers’ locals, collected funds to add to more than $100,000 raised by labor and its allies during the lockout to help these hardest-hit workers.

The gathering also featured repeated expressions of appreciation for Mayor Dellums’ role in the talks. Josie Camacho, the mayor’s director of constituent services, said Dellums worked so persistently for a good settlement because “standing behind workers for a decent standard of living is very important in this area.” She said city workers told residents who complained about festering garbage that “union workers do their jobs promptly and efficiently. That’s the difference union labor makes.”

While the lockout cost Waste Management an estimated $10 million to $15 million to transport, house and provide security for several hundred replacement workers brought in from other locations, the corporation’s profits were up nearly 9 percent for the second quarter, Bloomberg.com said this week.

Meanwhile, all eyes are now on the Machinists’ talks. Union leader Don Crosatto said the Machinists, whose wages and benefits have lagged behind those of their Teamster co-workers, are pressing to catch up, but Waste Management’s current offer would leave them even farther behind. Stay tuned.

mbechtel @pww.org