Huntington Beach, Anaheim sanitation workers go on strike as talks with Republic canned

Members of Teamsters Local 396 on strike Thursday at the Republic Services facility in Huntington Beach.
Members of Teamsters Local 396 form a picket line Thursday at the Republic Services facility in Huntington Beach in response to what they call unfair labor practices committed during bargaining talks.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Orange County sanitation workers Thursday formed picket lines at Republic Services facilities in Huntington Beach and Anaheim, as unionized employees initiated a strike over alleged unfair labor practices being perpetrated by the Phoenix-based company.

Organized by Teamsters Local 396, the demonstration follows a Nov. 23 vote during which some 420 employees authorized a strike as negotiations stalled beyond a Sept. 30 contract expiration.

Union representatives accused Republic Services of threatening workers who spoke in media interviews after the vote, calling the response the latest example of the ongoing harassment of employees.


“There were comments made by managers that, if workers came out in pictures, there’d be trouble,” said Adan Alvarez, communications director for Local 396. “There are essential workers of color who work hard for their community, and they are denied dignity and respect on the job.”

Republic Services employees called a strike Thursday, claiming unfair labor practices have complicated contract negotiations.
Republic Services employees called a strike at 3 a.m. Thursday, claiming unfair labor practices have complicated contract negotiations.
(Courtesy of Teamsters Local 396)

Alvarez said Republic offered bonuses to employees without consulting the union, although the context in which the sums were offered is unclear. About 60% to 70% of the workforce represented are employees of color, he added.

The strike began at 3 a.m., shortly before drivers were due to begin their morning shifts in cities across Orange County, including Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Santa Ana. Local 396 workers also provide trash collection service to Disneyland and its resort hotels.

Employees say 14-hour shifts keep them from their families, while they often endure grueling conditions. Other issues include Republic’s use of non-contracted labor and allegations of retaliation against employees who file grievances.

About 100 workers outside Republic’s Huntington Beach facility Thursday carried picket signs as passing cars honked in solidarity. In the crowd was Huntington Beach resident Eddie Chavez, a driver for the past 16 years.

Striking sanitation workers  force a car to wait before entering a Republic Services facility in Huntington Beach Thursday.
Striking members of Teamsters Local 396 force a driver to wait before entering a Republic Services facility in Huntington Beach Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Chavez said he’d much rather be working his route, doing beach pickups in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach and Balboa Peninsula than standing in a picket line in the rain. But he said it’s important employees be heard.

“This is the only opportunity to represent ourselves and fix the things we need to fix,” said the 49-year-old father of five. “This affects me as a resident and a worker — I’ve got to find out what to do with my trash, too.”

Chavez said Republic has dug in its heels, not over money but over clearing up ambiguities in the contract that, for example, force employees to bid on six-day work weeks when their contract defines a work week as five days or allow the company to ignore seniority while assigning routes.

“They have all these little loopholes,” Chavez added. “This is our one chance, every five years, to correct that. But they don’t want to budge.”

At Republic’s Anaheim facility, Katherine Kelleher, a driver of 15 years, joined a 200-member picket line to raise awareness of the working conditions sanitation workers face.

“It’s very risky,” said the Anaheim resident, describing having to clean out pickers, slip and fall hazards and runaway trucks. “The industry itself is a very dangerous industry to be in — we’re dealing with all types of weather, and there’s always work.”

Teamsters members at facilities in Huntington Beach and Anaheim agreed in a Nov. 23 vote to authorize a strike, alleging too-long hours, harassment and the hiring of subcontractors.

Nov. 30, 2021

Kelleher said employees have been pushed to the limit and are frustrated and fatigued.

“We will go as long as we need to get a fair contract and deal with the issues at hand,” she added. “The customer comes first, but we have to be treated fairly, and we’d like the customers to support us.”

Andy Marshall, a contract coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Local 396, is negotiating contracts for 1,000 sanitation workers at 13 Orange County facilities. While some level of agreement has been reached in most cases, talks with Republic Services in Anaheim and Huntington Beach aren’t progressing.

“Republic just doesn’t have any inclination to settle these contracts, in my opinion,” Marshall said, adding bargaining sessions scheduled for Dec. 16 and 17 will likely not take place, due to the strike.

When asked to respond to interview questions, an unnamed representative from Republic Services’ corporate office in Phoenix provided an email statement identical to one provided in Nov. 30 following the strike authorization vote.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve fair and competitive labor contracts,” it read.

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