- Teamsters Local 25's strike against Republic Services in Massachusetts has now dragged on for more than seven weeks, following the eighth round of unsuccessful negotiations last Thursday. Annual 10% wage increases, along with requests to switch employees over to Teamsters health insurance and pension plans at greater expense to Republic, are said to be key sticking points.
- The union attracted a high-profile new supporter last week. “It should not be the case that a billionaire like Bill Gates can make over $100 million each year in stock dividends from a company like Republic Services, while the workers at Republic struggle to put food on the table. I am proud to stand with the Teamsters, and with workers everywhere who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in a Friday statement.
- Following supportive demonstrations in various states, the Teamsters also recently organized a two-day stoppage for an estimated 250 workers in the Seattle, Washington area. The action affected collection for approximately 500,000 customers in 10 municipalities, according to The Seattle Times and KIRO 7.
This situation, which began with two dozen Marshfield, Massachusetts workers striking on Aug. 29, has played out through a flurry of pop-up demonstrations and competing media releases this fall. While collection disruptions in the Marshfield area were resolved quickly, Teamsters workers have also taken solidarity stances in at least four other states. Actions have ranged from picketing to more disruptive collection delays in California and Washington.
The level of coordination behind this strategy, or how much it fits into ongoing negotiations in other markets, remains unclear. The Teamsters' national organization has largely deferred questions to Local 25, which has declined interview requests.
"It’s time for working people, especially union members, to fight back and get their fair share of the profits enjoyed by their employers. As far as Teamsters Local 25 is concerned we will never give up the battle as long as our members are disrespected by Republic Services," said President Sean O'Brien in a statement.
While Republic declined to comment on Sen. Sanders' recent involvement, the company has begun offering more direct rebuttals to some of the Teamsters' claims about negotiations.
According to Republic, the average Marshfield driver earned $80,000 last year (considered a local living wage for a family with one adult and one child per the Economic Policy Institute), received a "highly competitive, industry-standard healthcare plan" and had a 401(k) with company matching. In contrast, per Republic, moving to a Teamsters health plan that was free for employees would double the company's costs. Switching to an underfunded regional Teamsters pension plan is also described as more risky, given its critical status.
"Republic respects the rights of its employees, but Local 25 shows only disrespect to our employees and our community when it misrepresents facts to pursue its own internal agenda," said Donna Egan, Republic's director of communications, in a statement. "We remain hopeful that Local 25 will return to the bargaining table with realistic proposals so the parties can negotiate a competitive contract that enhances long-term stability and job security."
Sanders is not the first member of Congress to weigh in – Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III also came out in support early on – but his national profile has drawn more attention. The focus on Bill Gates (Republic's largest shareholder) fits with Sanders' focus on income inequality during his presidential campaign. Teamsters members have recently been traveling to protest Gates directly outside his office in Washington, as well as at recent events in New York and the U.K.
A representative for Bill Gates could not be reached at publishing time.
Teamsters comprise an estimated 7,000 of Republic's approximately 36,000 employees, and the vast majority of the company's union workers. Republic had the highest percentage of unionized workers among publicly-traded North American waste companies through 2018.