October 1, 2008: Ending a strike that began Aug. 26, members of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 200 at Waste Management Inc. in the Milwaukee area Sept. 28 voted to ratify a new five-year labor agreement that will change the current defined pension program and replace it with a 401(k) defined contribution plan, according to the company and the union.
The union's move to ratify the agreement comes after members twice rejected the same proposal, first on Sept. 19 and later on Sept. 21, with union officials citing member's concerns about the turbulent economy as the reason for the switch.
Workers will return to work Oct. 1, Waste Management spokeswoman Lynn Morgan told BNA Sept. 29. About 240 truck drivers, equipment operators and mechanics are represented by the union, according to the company and the union.
"Today, our members voted for the latest offer from Waste Management by a 2-1 margin and officially ended their strike," Local 200 Secretary and Treasurer Tom Millonzi said in a statement Sept. 28. "Our members who were forced to strike for more than a month in a fight to secure a strong contract, made a difficult decision with this vote. With this vote, our members decided that given the turbulent nature of our economy, their families' futures must take priority over holding out for a better offer from Waste Management."
Millonzi could not be reached for further comment Sept. 29 and Sept. 30.
Pension Issue Key Sticking Point
The new agreement, which took effect upon ratification, changes the current defined benefit pension program and replaces it with a 401(k) defined contribution plan--a key point of contention in previous negotiations.
"It was the key issue and the sticking point," Morgan told BNA Sept. 29.
Under the new agreement, "Waste Management is going to be allowed to withdraw from Central States [Southeast and Southwest Areas Health and Welfare and Pension Funds] on a going forward process," Morgan said. "What that means is the company will not be required to make future contributions. It will not continue to purchase more pension benefits for employees already in the fund. It will establish 401(k) plans."
Current employees will receive whatever they have vested in Central States, she added. Changes to salary, health plan and tool and uniform allowances also were made to the previous contract, which expired on April 30, Morgan said, but she declined to give more specific details of the new contract.
The company already had started to hire permanent replacements for the strikers on Sept. 21, even though the Teamsters had offered to meet with the company at any time to resolve the contract, Millonzi told BNA Sept. 25.
However, Morgan told BNA the next day, "As long as the union is insisting Waste Management put its employees' and customers' future at the mercy of the Central State's Pension Fund, there's not much to talk about."
Teamsters Local 200 represents about 240 truck drivers, equipment operators and mechanics employed at Waste Management's Milwaukee-area operations.
The company provides waste collection and recycling services in the Milwaukee area for an estimated 102,500 homes and 16,300 businesses and institutions and provides disposal services for waste that municipal crews and other companies collect from homes and facilities, according to the company.