(Memphis, TN) –Sanitation workers at Republic Services/Allied Waste in the greater Memphis area returned to work today. Nearly 200 drivers and helpers had been on strike since Monday, Jan. 28, in protest of numerous unfair labor practices by Republic/Allied [NYSE: RSG].
The unfair labor practices by Republic/Allied Waste include withholding contractually-obligated safety bonuses, disallowing workers from putting safety gear on at work, and ending the practice of allowing workers to bid on family vacation time. The workers are also working under an expired contract, and there are several issues the company has so far failed to address in negotiations.
The striking sanitation workers are represented by Teamsters Local 984 in Memphis. At a news conference yesterday, Aaron Belk, a representative of Local 984, discussed what caused the strike and what must happen next.
“Our members are returning to work because our community is counting on them. Republic Services is based in Arizona, but we live here,” Belk said. “The company better start respecting this community, and it can start by respecting the men and women who work here. This short strike was a wake-up call to Republic that it must stop breaking the law and start treating its workers and our communities fairly.”
Corey Hayes, a container delivery driver at Republic Services, addressed the press conference.
“This is dangerous work,” Hayes said. “We have an important duty to protect everyone from the dangerous things we come across every day. We take this responsibility very seriously and we receive bonuses under our contract for being safe. After breaking the law in other ways many times over the past few months, last week this company chose to cheat us out of our safety bonuses. We decided we’d had enough of their bullying, so we went on strike.”
Hayes said the company’s comments regarding the strike were outrageous.
“Republic told the media that the strike was unnecessary because it had the checks waiting for us if we had gone to work on Monday morning,” Hayes said. “We were picketing 20 feet away from their office for three days – why didn’t the managers just come outside and give us our checks? They forced us into the streets and kept the people in this community from getting their garbage picked up because they didn’t want to walk 20 feet? ”
Joseph Wyatt, another Republic worker, also spoke at yesterday's press conference.
“Republic/Allied Waste violated the law and needs to rectify the outstanding violations immediately,” Wyatt said. “We’re asking them to stop breaking the law, and to treat us like human beings – employees – instead of slaves."
Republic’s attacks on its workers have increased in the last year. In May 2012, the company locked out 80 members of Teamsters Local 215 in Evansville, Ind. for six weeks. Out-of-town replacement drivers damaged people’s homes, vehicles and even power lines during the lockout.
Last March, the company walked away from a ratified contract with Teamsters Local 991 in Mobile, Ala. Local 991 members were forced to strike to protest the company’s illegal behavior and finally secure a contract. Workers in four other cities across the country honored their picket lines before the company came to its senses a little over a week later. During the lockout in Evansville, workers in five cities honored picket lines before the lockout was ended.
Republic/Allied Waste’s total revenues were more than $8.2 billion in 2011, with profits of more than $589 million. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is the primary shareholder at Republic Services. Gates, whose personal assets total $66 billion, owns approximately $2.4 billion worth of Republic stock, or 25 percent of the total worth of the company. Gates’ investment officer Michael Larson sits on the Republic Services board of directors.
Sanitation work is the fourth-most dangerous job in America. In May 2012, the same month Republic locked out its workers in Evansville, the company approved a death and disability benefit for its CEO valued at more than $23 million.