Sanitation workers continue protests at Republic Services

Sanitation workers continue protests at Republic Services

Employee strikes over wages, healthcare benefits and retirement security have rippled across the country since Aug. 29.

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Republic Services sanitation workers have continued to engage in protests and intermittent work stoppages amid contract disputes with the Phoenix-based company.

Members of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston began their strike on Aug. 29 to protest Republic's refusal during contract negotiations to offer comparable wages, healthcare benefits and retirement security that workers at other area Republic facilities receive, according to a release from the Teamsters.

Coinciding with the Massachusetts protests, Republic Services/Allied Waste workers at the company's Newby Island Resource Recovery Park in San Jose, California—including recycling, organics, mechanics, collection and administrative employees—exercised their right to refuse to cross a picket line Sept. 5. Workers in Fremont, California, and Fall River, Massachusetts, followed suit Sept. 6.

Workers in Cumming, Georgia, who are members of Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta, joined the strike Sept. 9, and workers in McDonough and Winder, Georgia, and Evansville, Indiana, staged protests of their own.

On Oct. 3-4, hundreds more Republic Services/Allied Waste workers belonging to Teamsters Local 38, Local 117, Local 174 and Local 763 honored picket lines that had extended to the Seattle area.

Then, on Oct. 6, two of the company’s sanitation employees, along with supporters from Unite the Union, which represents refuse collectors across Great Britain, protested Microsoft founder Bill Gates at his appearance at the Cambridge Union Society in Cambridge, England. Gates was on hand as the recipient of the organization’s 2019 Professor Hawking Fellowship, named after the professor and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Gates is Republic Services' biggest shareholder. His personal investment manager, Michael Larson, also sits on Republic's board of directors.

Bernie Egan-Mullen, a member of Teamsters Local 25, says in a news release that ideally during the latest round of protests, Gates would have directed Republic to improve working conditions according to the workers’ requests. He added that Hawking was a long-time champion of the National Health Service, the U.K.’s publicly funded national healthcare system.

"I'm guessing [Hawking] would be shocked at how much we have to pay for healthcare,” Egan-Mullen says. “Meanwhile we are paid, on average, 40 percent below what it takes to make a living wage for a family with one adult and one child.”

Republic says its drivers in Marshfield averaged approximately $80,000 in wages last year, not including a benefits package that includes medical, dental, vision, AD&D and disability insurance, a company-matched 401(k) retirement plan and "generous" paid time off. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage calculator, the living wage in Massachusetts for one adult and one child in 2019 is $29.66 an hour, or $61,693 before taxes. The average salary in Massachusetts in 2019 is $72,657, according to ZipRecruiter.

Republic has called the Teamsters' bargaining demands "unrealistic" and says in addition to the strikes, union members have engaged in "unlawful harassing, threatening and intimidating conduct and unsafe actions on community roads." The company adds that regular collection services have continued in several cities around Massachusetts with the help of law enforcement.

"The strike quickly devolved into union-orchestrated violence, stalking, threats and racial slurs, as well as interference with trash collection by moving customer waste receptacles and blocking trucks. Union members also began engaging in dangerous practices on community roadways, including swerving and abruptly stopping in front of waste and recycling collection vehicles," Republic says in a statement

“We are grateful to our employees from around the country who have come to Marshfield to help us fulfill our commitment to the communities we serve,” says Gail Vanasse, general manager of Republic Services of Marshfield, Massachusetts. “We take pride in providing our employees with outstanding compensation and benefits, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve a fair and competitive labor contract.”

Demetrius Tart, a member of Teamsters Local 728 of Atlanta, however, says Republic's wages and benefits are still not enough.

“Republic workers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public health. We came to Cambridge to spread message that sanitation workers in America have the fifth most deadly job, and Bill Gates made $100 million in Republic stock dividends last year while their workers were forced to decide between paying for their family's healthcare or putting food on the table," Tart says in a news release.

Republic employs 36,000 people around the country and provides service to 14 million customers.