More than one year after the first Republic Services yard in the Phoenix area voted to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the two sides have yet to come to a deal. Union representatives allege the company is intentionally slow-walking negotiations to avoid making a deal with the 286 represented employees working just miles from its corporate headquarters.
"Bargaining might be tough, but the goal is to reach an agreement. These guys' goal isn't to reach an agreement," said Josh Graves, vice president of Teamsters Local 104. "They're putting up a bigger fight because this is in their backyard."
A successfully negotiated contract would be the Teamsters’ first such waste contract in Arizona. It would also follow a string of new contracts with Republic and other companies agreed to by union members this year in Atlanta and Chicago.
The negotiations with Republic concern three work locations in the Phoenix area that have all voted to unionize. Following the first election on Oct. 21, 2022, two more Republic shops elected to join Teamsters Local 104 this year. Those two shops added a combined 174 employees to the negotiations, and were the two largest Republic shops to unionize this year, per National Labor Relations Board data.
Since negotiations began, the union has filed six unfair labor practice charges against Republic with the NLRB, Graves said. They include refusing to allow union personnel on the property, failing to provide representation for employees in certain situations and firing or otherwise retaliating against employees involved in union activities.
Republic Services did not respond to questions about its negotiation tactics or alleged retaliation. In an emailed statement, a company spokesperson acknowledged the negotiations.
“We respect the rights of our employees to engage in collective bargaining, or to choose not to do so, and we bargain in good faith to reach agreements that are beneficial for our employees, our customers and our company,” said Alice Giedraitis, senior manager of external communications.
Ibrahim Saleh, a four-year employee of Republic Services, said he was fired last summer. He believes Republic retaliated against him because of his work to organize fellow employees in the months leading up their election last year. Republic did not answer a question about the motivation behind his firing.
Saleh said he became interested in organizing with a union because he knows garbage truck drivers in his native state of Illinois who had received pay increases. He said drivers there could be making $47 per hour thanks to a newly negotiated labor contract.
But in its Phoenix negotiations, the company has offered an 85-cent increase in hourly wages in the first year of a proposed contract, 80 cents in year two, and 70 cents for the following years of the contract.
"It's a billion-dollar company and they want to sit there and give us Chuck E. Cheese coins and pat us on the back, while we're out here working five, six days a week, 12 hour days, in 120-degree heat during the summertime," Saleh said.
Saleh said a strong contract at Republic's shops may increase the competitiveness of the labor market in the area, enticing drivers to go to a shop with a union contract and forcing non-unionized employers to increase wages and benefits as a result.
In the year since he started working at WM, Saleh said he has seen a $6 raise, which both Saleh and Graves attribute to the company's desire to stay competitive with Republic's workplace.
"At the end of the day, we're the ones that make the company money. So they want to keep us happy," Saleh said.
Graves said the two sides have come to an agreement on some details in the contract. They include changes to the discipline procedure, which would shift from an at-will termination procedure to just cause. The company has agreed to maintain air conditioning in trucks, and agreed to allow drivers to refuse to drive a truck if it doesn’t meet safety standards. Republic has also agreed to increase some allowances on vacation and bereavement policy, among other measures.
But the two sides remain apart on wages and pensions. Teamsters leaders want to get employees on the union’s Western Pension fund, which Republic so far has not agreed to, according to Graves. The union is also seeking wage increases of $1.50 in the first year and $1 for each subsequent year in the contract.
Graves noted that after WM bumped up its own wages in the market, Republic Services drivers are now behind the market. “They know that, but they still don't want to put anything reasonable on the table,” Graves said, noting that at the most recent bargaining session Republic increased its offer by “a nickel.”
The shape of negotiations has changed recently, as both sides agreed to bring in a federal mediator at their most recent bargaining session. All three Republic Services shops seeking a contract have authorized a strike. If they were to strike, it would be the first in the industry since January 2022, when a strike in California ended with a successful agreement.
Graves said he’s working to avoid that outcome, but notes that morale is suffering as drivers aren’t able to see the benefits of a new contract.
“They're getting frustrated because they want to see a contract, they want to see what the increases are going to be,” Graves said. “Until we reach an agreement on everything and they ratify it, then we're kind of stuck in limbo.”