THE TEAMSTERS HAVE gotten the ball rolling on their movement to unionize the sanitation industry nationally, starting with Atlanta, according Chuck Stiles, lead organizer for the Teamsters in Georgia. Already, workers at two Allied Waste/BFI sites in Georgia have voted to join the union, and a third site's workers will decide in April whether to become members.
On February 27, workers at Atlanta's Bankhead Highway center voted 80-10 to form a union with Teamster's Local 728. There are approximately 120 workers at the Bankhead Highway site, according to the Teamsters. On March 19, workers at an Allied/BFI center in Tyrone, Ga., voted 31-4 to join the union, and an April vote in Lawrenceville, Ga., is expected to add another group of Allied/BFI workers to the Teamsters.
Stiles says efforts also are underway to organize unions for sanitation workers in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and other major metro areas. Particularly, Atlanta was chosen for its growth, and the effort will continue indefinitely. “It's a major metro market and extremely fast-growing area,” he says. For workers in Georgia, union membership will create stability, says David Thomas, a front-end driver for Allied/BFI's Bankhead Highway center for 13 years. He says Allied/BFI had cut pay and benefits and restructured the pay scale to work on commission. Also the company's zero-tolerance policy on accidents upset some workers who had been with the company for many years. “We had to do something,” Thomas says, adding that now that the workers are unionized, they can negotiate a new contract. “Now we can come in every day knowing we're not going to lose our benefits, money or job security. That was our main goal.”
Although Allied Vice President of Investor Relations Michael Burnett was unavailable at press time, Thomas says Allied respected its workers' decision. “They told us they appreciated the eight or nine months [we'd spent] talking with them, we'd done a great job and didn't lose focus, and they did appreciate the way we conducted business,” Thomas says.
Allied/BFI employees across the country currently are working toward a national contract, Thomas adds. “Our goal is for every BFI company to work on the same pay scale,” he says.