Making Labor Peace

Republic settles strike with Teamsters over health care surcharge waiver.

Both labor and management say they’re satisfied after settlement of a strike at Republic Services Inc. that was short but stretched from Buffalo, N.Y., to Seattle.

At Republic’s Mobile, Ala., facility 24 workers went on strike March 22 over a health care contract issue. Workers at Republic’s Brewton, Ala., facility were part of the negotiations with Teamsters Local 991 but did not strike.

The Alabama workers were subsequently supported by more than 400 Teamsters workers honoring picket lines in Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; Seattle; and the Seattle-area cities of Bellevue, Lynnwood and Kent. The two sides eventually reached an agreement April 2.

Republic and the Teamsters had negotiated for nearly a year. Brewton workers approved a tentative agreement, but before the Mobile workers could ratify it as well, Republic said there was a health care surcharge waiver in the agreement that was not company policy, so it withdrew the agreement, says Jim Gookins, Temasters Local 991 secretary, treasurer and principal officer, in an interview.

The Mobile workers struck, and by the time it reached Seattle it had some momentum. “When 60,000 homes didn’t get trash picked up, it kind of resonated with them,” Gookins says of the standoff with Republic.

Republic had to sort out the surcharge problem, says Will Flower, Republic senior vice president of communications, in an interview.
    “Some miscommunication occurred; at one point company bargainers had mistakenly agreed to the waiver,” he says. When the company determined the facts, “we said, ‘if we made that commitment then we will honor it, but only in this particular case. Republic’s policy on surcharges remains in place.”

The Teamsters were good with that, and the deal was passed in Mobile and validated in Brewton. All workers are back to work. During the work stoppage, Republic brought in workers from other facilities.

“We understand that the most important thing for all of our employees is to provide  great customer service, and we can’t do that while the Teamsters are causing a work stoppage,” Flower says. “It was in both sides’ best interest that our customers would be taken care of.”

The Teamsters represent about 9,000 employees at Republic operations.

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