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O.C. could see holiday trash pile up as Republic Services employees authorize strike

A worker at Republic Services in Anaheim on Nov. 23, where members of Teamsters Local 396 voted to authorize a strike.
A sanitation worker at Republic Services in Anaheim on Nov. 23, where members of Teamsters Local 396 voted to authorize a strike as contract negotiations stall.
(Courtesy of Teamsters Local 396)

Some Orange County residents could see a disruption in trash service during the holiday season, after hundreds of sanitation workers employed by Republic Services voted last week to authorize a strike as contract negotiations with the Arizona-based waste hauler stall.

Members of Teamsters Local 396 — which represents more than 3,000 Southern California sanitation employees, including about 420 working at Republic facilities in Huntington Beach and Anaheim — have been bargaining since workers’ contract expired Sept. 30.

During a Nov. 23 vote, more than 80% of employees authorized a strike, according to Adan Alvarez, communications director for the local chapter based in Covina. That doesn’t mean local waste haulers will walk off the job, but it could be a possibility.

Employees at a Republic Services facility in Huntington Beach on Nov. 23 voted to authorize a strike as contract talks stall.
(Courtesy of Teamsters Local 396)

“It’s been going very slowly,” Alvarez said of negotiations Tuesday. “The company hasn’t even addressed some basic issues. More than anything, the workers don’t feel respected.”

Among the top issues union leaders are trying to address are allegations of harassment of employees by supervisors, too-long hours and the use of non-unionized temporary workers to fill staffing shortages.

Fullerton resident Michael Dominguez has worked for 14 years as a parts technician, keeping trucks running smoothly at Republic Services’ Anaheim facility. In that time, he says, working conditions and morale have been on the decline.

During the pandemic, for example, several employees became infected with the coronavirus, creating staffing shortages that led to long hours, and faced exposure to the virus on their routes. One employee died from COVID-19, he said, while another was hospitalized and is relearning how to walk.

Teamsters Local 396 members outside a Republic Services facility in Anaheim on Nov. 23 during a strike authorization vote.
Teamsters Local 396 members outside a Republic Services facility in Anaheim on Nov. 23 during a strike authorization vote.
(Courtesy of Teamsters Local 396)

Dominguez got the coronavirus last December and suspects he may have been infected at work, since his wife is a stay-at-home mom and his kids were on break from school at the time.

“We’ve had so many calls out from various things that transpired through that surge of COVID,” he added. “And it’s still happening today.”

Meanwhile, employees who claim working additional hours may be reprimanded or retaliated against when they submit formal grievances through the union, said Dominguez, a shop steward. It’s not uncommon for drivers to end shifts late in the evening and report back to work at 6 a.m.

“I love working for my company, that’s the way I support my family, but enough is enough,” he said. “We don’t want to go on strike, but if pushed, we will.”

In an Oct. 28 third-quarter earnings report, Republic Chief Executive Jon Vander Ark reported the company experienced 14% growth in revenue and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and had invested $900 million year-to-date in acquisitions.

When asked Tuesday for an interview regarding the progress of negotiations, an unnamed representative from Republic Services’ corporate office in Phoenix provided an email statement, confirming negotiations were ongoing for some Teamsters-represented employees in the Orange County area.

“Republic respects the rights of our employees to engage in the collective bargaining process, and we continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve fair and competitive labor contracts,” the statement read.

Alvarez said a strike during the holidays would not be pretty.

“If it did come to a strike and trash didn’t get picked up — that means at commercial, residential [properties] and major resorts during the holidays, there’d be an excess of waste materials,” he said. “There’s a potentially significant impact.”

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