On the Picket Line

Calif. sanitation workers fight over safety, seniority, respect

By Bill Arth
and Laura Garza
January 3, 2022

LOS ANGELES — More than 250 Republic Services sanitation workers in the San Diego area, members of Teamsters Local 542, went on strike Dec. 18. “Safety issue here is a big concern. We’re driving trucks that shouldn’t be on the street,” Manny Puma, a driver for Republic in Chula Vista and the local’s shop steward, told CBS News 8.

Their job is to pick up the trash, strikers told the reporters, but say they’re being treated like trash.

“We’re picking up residential — 1,300 to 1,400 homes a day. No matter what the weather condition is, we’re out there servicing our customers,” Puma said. “Sometimes we’re hampered by machines that aren’t safe. Trucks that are leaking oil.”

Republic Services is the second-largest waste collection company in the country, operating in 41 states with some 30,000 workers. The Teamsters union is negotiating over similar issues with workers in Orange County, Los Angeles, and New Orleans.

Some 400 sanitation workers in Huntington Beach and Anaheim in Orange County, members of Teamsters Local 396, went on strike Dec. 9 over too much overtime, company harassment, violations of seniority and disrespect from the bosses.

“You may be the senior driver on a route and they move you around for no reason,” front loader driver Enrique Rodriguez Jr., told the Militant. “Then you’re on a route you’re not familiar with and they expect you to finish on time.”

One worker who got sick with COVID took it home and a family member died. “The company told him he’d used up all his sick time and didn’t have any more and had to come back to work,” fleet mechanic and union committee member Ron Velasquez said. The company doesn’t provide any paid bereavement time. The morale on the picket line was really high, he added.

The strike ended Dec. 16 after workers voted up a new company offer. Valasquez said they won a new bidding process that gives workers the chance to take or pass up on jobs based on seniority, and some transfer drivers hired through a subcontractor will become company employees. They won a $6 raise over the six-year contract with $2.23 in the first year, and prevented the bosses from adding any more tiers to the pay scale.

“We felt our strike did make changes,” he said. “We needed to do something bold, we stuck together to make a statement and show we are the ones that make the wheels turn. They know if we have other issues in the future we have that solidarity.”