On the Picket Line

San Diego-area sanitation strikers fight for wages, safety

By Sylvia Hansen
and Laura Garza
January 24, 2022
Sanitation workers in Teamsters Local 542 stand firm in nearly four-week strike against Republic Services in the San Diego area demanding wages on par with company’s workers elsewhere.
Militant/Laura GarzaSanitation workers in Teamsters Local 542 stand firm in nearly four-week strike against Republic Services in the San Diego area demanding wages on par with company’s workers elsewhere.

SAN DIEGO — Sanitation workers on strike at Republic Services in the San Diego area remain on the picket lines after voting down a new offer by the company Jan. 6. Workers are demanding higher wages, on a par with other Republic Services workers, and safer working conditions from a company that is the second-largest landfill and trash collection corporation in the country.

Members of Teamsters Local 542 voted 136 to 86 to reject the offer.

“One of the bigger issues,” Cesar Silva, a worker who voted no, told CBS8-TV at the union hall, is “our pension and our wages. And the discomfort we have as drivers now in our equipment.” The strike began Dec. 17.

Republic settled a contract recently in Orange County with raises of over $2 an hour the first year and $1 for each succeeding year of the contract, but they have refused to match that offer to the workers in San Diego. The bosses claim that the area’s closeness to Mexico means the cost of living is lower there.

Drivers also say unsafe conditions on the trucks and the frequent refusal of the company to fix them has to change.

“In 2020, Republic Services earned over $10 billion, with $1.2 billion in net profit, while its CEO’s total compensation totaled over $12 million,” the Teamsters said in a press statement. “Republic’s largest shareholder is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Gates’ investment advisor sits on Republic’s board of directors.”

As uncollected garbage piles up, Republic said they’re bringing in scabs to replace workers on strike. They are using a special group called the “Blue Crew,” which is used specifically to act as strikebreakers when there is a labor dispute. But piles of trash still abound in the area, stinking and attracting rats.

Mary Salas, the mayor of Chula Vista, where Republic has its largest San Diego-area facility, has come out in favor of the strike. “Our trash collectors, many of whom are Chula Vista residents, deserve a fair contract,” she told KGTV.

Salas also spoke with CBS8, noting the company’s move to use strikebreakers. “I have full support for the sanitation workers,” she said. “They are striking and rightly so.” She added that the next time the city negotiates with Republic over their services, she intends to push for greater protection for the workers.

Officials have set a City Council meeting on the strike Jan. 11, and the union plans to attend and hold a rally outside City Hall.

“Our members have been working nonstop throughout the pandemic to keep San Diego communities clean and safe” Jaime Vasquez, secretary-treasurer of Local 542, said in a union press release. “They have been pushed to the brink by excessive working hours and harassment by company management.”

“It’s no surprise that our members voted down Republic’s current contract proposal,” Vasquez said. “In addition, it was a slap in the face to learn that Republic gave its board members hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and stock this week.”

“The only way the City of Chula Vista is going to get cleaned up is for us to go back to work,” Laderer Hampton, a striker and driver who’s been with Republic Services for 16 years, told CBS8. “Not the Blue Crew, us. The drivers right here, that’s picketing.”

In addition to the San Diego area, Teamster members at Republic Services are in negotiations for contracts that expired in 2021 in San Francisco; Seattle; New Orleans; and San Jose, Stockton, and Richmond, California.