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Trash workers go on strike in three Southland cities

Times Staff Writer

More than 450 truck drivers, welders and mechanics chanted “yes we can” and “we are united” early Friday as they went on strike against Waste Management facilities in Compton, Long Beach and Sun Valley.

The workers with Teamsters Local 396 walked off the job about 3 a.m., following a vote earlier in the week to reject the company’s latest contract offer, and leaving at least 225,000 residents without service.

“If they came out and said they’re willing to negotiate, we’d go back to work,” said truck driver Salvador Camey, 34, who was part of the Teamsters’ bargaining team. “All we want is for the company to share the wealth,” he said.

Waste Management Inc. is the largest service of its kind in North America, operating trash, recycling and disposal services in cities across the nation.

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Kit Cole, a company spokeswoman, said residents and businesses would likely not be adversely affected as replacement workers from other Waste Management plants were brought in from across the region.

Cole said the company was exasperated with the workers, saying Waste Management officials and union leaders had reached multiple agreements that were rejected by the union’s rank-and-file membership.

“We’re totally confused,” Cole said. “This is the third agreement we’ve come to with the union’s leadership. This was a good contract; it wasn’t peanuts.”

The company said the contract expired in September and that its latest offer included a 22.5% pay increase over five years, a 19% increase in the company’s contribution to the workers’ pension fund and a 21% increase in its contribution to the workers’ health plan.

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Workers on strike said pay was not the whole issue and accused the company of bargaining in bad faith.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the insult,” said Hector Rendon, a Teamsters organizer.

Rendon and other workers said they felt ridiculed and belittled by company officials.

Henry Reyes, a 43-year-old mechanic, said many workers went on strike because their jobs do not allow them to spend much time with their families because they are working more than a 40-hour week. He said he works a 10-hour day, beginning at 6 a.m.; every other Saturday, he works at least five hours.

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Reyes said he keeps the job because of the benefits.

“The reason why I’m here is because they give me full medical insurance for my family,” he said, noting that he worried about the promises of insurance in the latest contract offers.

“We want a better contract,” he added.

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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