By DON McINTOSH
Seven heavy equipment mechanics are now in their second month of striking a Corvallis landfill. It’s a fight that Operating Engineers Local 701 business manager James Anderson says they’re determined to win.
But picketing outside the privately owned Coffin Butte landfill, they’re up against a Goliath. The mechanics work for Republic Services. Headquartered in Phoenix, Republic operates 206 active landfills, and runs 71 recycling centers, 233 transfer stations, and 353 collection operations, and employs approximately 40,000 full-time workers. In its most recent annual report, Republic reported a $3.9 billion profit on its $13.5 billion in revenue.
The Corvallis mechanics maintain and repair the machinery that makes the landfill possible: trash compactors, trailer tippers, front-end loaders. They voted unanimously to unionize last December after the company more than doubled employee contributions to family health premiums. After nine months of fruitless bargaining and frequent last-minute cancellations by the company’s negotiator, the workers walked off the job Sept. 11.
Workers say the company has one local scab mechanic doing their jobs, and he’s on the job even after suffering a stroke. But the company has also been rotating other scabs one at a time from out-of-state locations. To replace striking workers, Republic Services maintains a team of workers willing to relocate for higher-paid short term assignments known internally as the “blue crew” (Republic’s logo is blue).
Troy Paull, one of the strikers, says he was invited to be part of the blue crew when he started at Republic seven years ago.
“I said, ‘That sounds like scab work to me.’”
Paull said the company denied it, but he looked into it and found that’s exactly what the blue crew would be doing, and told them he wanted no part of it.
Strikers were thrilled when Teamsters Joint Council 37 gave its official sanction to their strike last month. That gave Teamster-represented trash truck drivers at Recology the right to refuse to cross the picket line to deliver trash. But after a couple days, Recology came up with a way to short circuit that solidarity: It set up a temporary way station near the landfill, and has its drivers pull up there, at which point managers drive the trucks the final distance to cross the picket line.
How unimportant are its workers to the company? From the standpoint of its balance sheet, very unimportant. Total labor costs last year were $2.7 billion, but the company made 40% more than that just in profit, $603.4 million of which it paid out in dividends. Republic’s board also authorized the company to spend up to $2.0 billion by the end of 2023 to buy back its stock (something companies do to goose their stock prices.) It could afford to treat its employees better.
THE UNION VIRUS SPREADS
Drivers who work alongside striking landfill mechanics may be about to unionize too. In a union election scheduled for Nov. 1, trash truck drivers operating out of the company’s Corvallis yard will vote on whether to join Teamsters Local 324.