New Jersey sanitation workers end strike, union comes out stronger

By Janet Post
March 20, 2023

CAMDEN, N.J. — Some 130 striking sanitation workers here, members of Teamsters Local 115, voted 64-41 March 5 to accept Waste Management’s latest contract offer and returned to work three days later.

On strike since Jan. 31, “we pushed the company back on some things, and the union was solid on the picket line,” shop steward Ivan James told the Militant. “The strike made us stronger for the next contract.”

“Not one of us crossed the picket line,” said striker Bob Klein, a driver with 26-years seniority. The bosses “didn’t want us to strike and set a precedent for other workers.”

After the company offered almost nothing in raises, the workers won an increase of $1.50 an hour plus 4% the first year and 3% the second and third years of the contract. They will receive a $1,500 signing bonus for workers hired before 2018, $1,000 for newer hires. Health coverage remains the same until future discussions at December’s open enrollment.

While the union had pushed back some of the two-tier wage provisions in the past, new hires working residential routes will take five years to reach parity, and on commercial routes, three years.

The company is also insisting on its “right” to use video cameras in truck cabs that can “go live” any time, a move strongly opposed by workers.

The bosses are also instituting stricter discipline for use of cellphones — two warnings, then a worker can be fired. “What good is a wage percentage, if you can get fired for making a cellphone call or eating a pretzel, then don’t have a job?” striker Bill Atkinson said.

The company had brought in some 80 replacement workers from nonunion yards around the country. And the bosses brought in union drivers from a Waste Management yard in Kentucky, telling them they were going to be doing “disaster relief.” When they got here and found out it was to cross the picket line of union members, they used their own money to fly home, James said.