December 5, 2007: Nearly 450 Waste Management Teamsters in Los Angeles reluctantly voted to end a two-week strike on Oct. 31 and accept a substandard contract after being hung out to dry by Local 396 and International Union leaders.
When Waste Management locked out 500 Teamsters in Oakland this summer to try to force through healthcare cuts and other concessions, Mayor Ron Dellums called the lockout a “dress rehearsal” for this fall’s contract negotiations in L.A.
Mayor Dellums was right. Unfortunately, when it was showtime in L.A., only the Local 396 rank and file were ready to play their part.
Three times Local 396 members voted to reject substandard contracts recommended by the local union leadership that would reduce their medical benefits, maintain substandard wages, and hit members with further benefit cuts if healthcare costs spike.
For twelve days, members struck Waste Management and shut down garbage collection. These Teamsters stood strong and deserved the full support of our union—and a plan to win. Instead, Local 396 members had to take on the world’s largest waste corporation while their union officials stood to the side or actively undermined their strike.
Before the strike, Local 396 officials recommended the company’s substandard contract offer and told members that if they voted it down, the local would call a strike and members would be on their own. And that is exactly what happened.
One week into the strike, Local 396 hosted a meeting of the International Union Waste Division to talk about coordinated action against Waste Management, including extending picket lines nationally. But Local 396 strikers were barred from attending the meeting. And no action plans were announced.
Instead, at a local meeting three days later, union officials told Waste Management Teamsters that the company was threatening to permanently replace the strikers and that this could lead to another PATCO—referring to Ronald Reagan’s infamous strikebreaking tactics against the air traffic controllers in 1981.
Local 396 Secretary-Treasurer Ron Herrera did not even have the decency to attend the meeting of Teamster strikers.
Local 396 negotiators then met with the company and agreed to vote the same contract offer again—a contract that our own International Union said would pay substandard wages.
With no plan to win from Local 396 or the International Union, members voted to accept a new five-year contract that is identical to the substandard contract they previously rejected.
The new contract will move Waste Management Teamsters into an inferior healthcare plan. If the company’s healthcare contributions do not keep pace with the rising cost of healthcare, Local 396 members will have to make up the difference by paying out of their pocket each month toward their medical plan.
Union Lets Company Replace Strikers
Local 396 voted to approve their contract because they were threatened with permanent replacements.
What these members did not know was that Local 396 officials agreed to end the strike without negotiating that strikers would have the right to return to their jobs.
Local 396 officials waited until after members had voted. Then business agents called more than 40 Teamsters to tell them not to go to work because they had been “permanently replaced.”
Waste Management dumped dozens of Teamster strikers—and replaced them with scabs hired through a temporary agency. It is standard practice for Teamster locals to make it a condition of any strike settlement that all strikers return to their jobs.
Under the law, Local 396 strikers who have been “permanently replaced” have the right to return to their jobs as opening become available, and some strikers have returned to work.
“We need to do whatever it takes to get our jobs back,” said Francisco Dominguez, a driver who was permanently replaced from the 213th Street yard. “It’s good to know we have TDU’s support and we’re not alone in this fight.”
National Strategy Needed
Waste Management, and other wastehaul employers, have been on the offensive against Teamsters across the country. While Teamsters in Seattle and Oakland won their contract battles, members in Washington, D.C., New York and now Los Angeles suffered devastating defeats.
Our union needs a nationally coordinated strategy for defending and improving members’ contracts, pay and benefits.
TDU will continue to build a national network of Teamster waste workers to achieve these goals. If you want to build Teamster power for waste workers, contact us and get involved today.
Click here to contact TDU's waste network.