Strong Legacy, Powerful Future: Memphis Waste Workers Secure Strong Contract


It’s been a triumphant year for waste workers at Local 667. In November 2015, nearly a decade after voting to decertify, drivers for Waste Management in Memphis voted to rejoin the Teamsters Union with the help of student activists at the University of Memphis and civil rights icons Alvin Turner and Baxter Leach. The 37-worker unit remained strong, uniting against anti-union tactics waged by the company to disrupt the organizing effort and rallying behind the campaign slogan: “Trucks break, we stay broke.”

Following the organizing win, the unit appeared in the Teamster Magazine to share their story – a cautionary tale of the false promises and deceitful tactics private waste companies (i.e., Big Trash) use on vulnerable union members to vote the union out.

Ronald Collins, a nine-year roll-off driver at the company, explained the hard lessons learned from his years without the security of a union contract and the need for Teamster representation:

Once they divided us and drove us apart, it was over. They had the votes they needed to get the Teamsters out. Things went downhill almost immediately…This time we knew better, and we had the community on our side to give us moral support. 

While Local 667 worked to negotiate protection for the unit, their message continued to resonate with Teamsters across the country. Over the summer, Collins joined Turner and Leach to share their experiences in front of thousands of members nationwide at the 29th International Convention. Memphis was center stage throughout the moving segment as Turner and Leach delivered inspiring speeches of their personal experience during the historic 1968 strike.

The past and present collided when Collins took the stage to share his recent experience and give thanks to the men who fought for justice in the waste industry before him:

The biggest problem we have today with these waste companies is greed. What these gentlemen went through was unspeakable. Of course, conditions are not that bad, thanks to them, but we still have our own battles to deal with.

Collins went on to detail their latest efforts at the bargaining table to win a strong contract that would put an end to the poor working conditions for WMI workers in Memphis, which Local 667 recently announced has finally come to a successful conclusion. The drivers have voted in favor a contract that will bring significant improvements to wages, health care, retirement and overall working conditions.

The unit’s business agent, James Jones, is proud of the work of the WMI unit and the new contract they have secured: 

We’ve made important gains, including a four percent raise and a strong grievance procedure to help drivers secure their jobs. We also negotiated a bonus on Martin Luther King Day in honor of the civil rights leader’s final campaign to win justice for Memphis sanitation workers.

The announcement of the new contract coincided with the unveiling of Baxter Leach Boulevard in Memphis. At the dedication ceremony, leaders and members from Local 667 were on hand to show their support, including Local 667 Secretary-Treasurer Ronnie Parkinson, who looks forward to continuing the fight for justice for Memphis waster workers:

Teamsters in Memphis have developed an incredible bond with activists and civil rights leaders in the community, and we are proud to follow in the footsteps of the brave men who marched for justice alongside Dr. King during the historic strike of 1968…Today, WMI drivers in Memphis are once again protected under a strong Teamster contract that will bring them safety and security. Now we can hold the company accountable and ensure these workers are being treated with the dignity and respect they need on the job.