As garbage ripens, Waste Management locks out 500 workers

OAKLAND, Calif. — As leftovers from July 4 barbecues festered in the hot summer sun, locked-out workers were on the picket line at garbage giant Waste Management here and in other San Francisco Bay Area communities this week.

On July 2, just two days after the previous contract expired, Waste Management suddenly locked out 500 workers represented by Teamsters Local 70 at facilities serving Oakland, Emeryville, Castro Valley, Hayward and several other Alameda County communities.

The action came despite the union’s pledge that its members would stay on the job as talks for a new contract continued. Local 70 has neither taken a strike vote nor requested strike sanction from the Alameda County Central Labor Council.

Waste Management hired 200 “replacement workers” to pick up garbage, but put collections of yard waste and recycling on hold.

A July 9 session with a federal mediator was described by both sides as unproductive, and at press time, no further talks were scheduled.

Among key issues are the company’s efforts to shift a larger share of health care costs to workers, and to impose new disciplinary measures for safety and health violations. Waste Management is also reportedly demanding a “no strike” clause in the new contract.

“Locking out workers when we’ve pledged to stay on the job during the talks has all the appearances of an attempt to bust the union,” Teamsters Local 70 Secretary-Treasurer Chuck Mack said in a telephone interview. “They are basically saying, ‘the public be damned.’ The only way that makes sense is if they want to break the union.”

Calling safety and health “a priority for us,” Mack said the union believes education and training are the best ways to achieve overall improvements and that workers who have allegedly violated rules should have the right to appeal.

The Alameda County Central Labor Council responded to the lockout by granting picket-line authorization to Teamsters Local 70. Other Waste Management workers are represented by Machinists Local 1546 and ILWU Warehouse Local 6, which have declared their wholehearted solidarity with the Teamsters.

Labor and community supporters are joining in 24-hour picketing.

“The issue here is the right to honor picket lines and the right to collective bargaining,” Labor Council head Sharon Cornu said in a statement. “The company has been blowing smoke about a variety of side issues, while their real goal is to stop union brothers and sisters from supporting each other and bargaining good contracts,” she said. “They picked the wrong place and the wrong members for this fight,” Cornu added. “Labor, community and political leaders are resolutely behind the workers from all three unions.”

Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums said in a statement that he is “deeply disappointed” by the company’s action, in view of its stated support for a no-strike, no lockout policy during the talks, and warned that the lockout would jeopardize Oakland residents’ health and safety.

The Teamsters Union also charges Waste Management with violating a promise it made in a July 2001 letter pledging not to seek concessions in future negotiations. In a statement just before the contract expired, Local 70 said, “Despite this very clear and indisputable promise, the company has done nothing but make demands for takeaways in every negotiation session to date.”

Reports in local news media have emphasized residents’ increasing distress as heaps of uncollected garbage and trash grow in front of their homes.

One East Oakland resident described streets lined with overflowing cans and additional bags of garbage, and warned that if the situation persists through another heat wave, things could “get ugly” with homeowners.

Another pointed out that a replacement worker apparently didn’t know how to operate the truck, since he was manually dumping trash into the back.

On July 9, a replacement crew set off a grassfire that burned a quarter acre near an Oakland Catholic high school when it accidentally downed an electrical power line.