April 1, 2010: A garbage strike has been averted - at least for now.
Jackie Lang, the spokeswoman for Waste Management, said early Thursday morning that the company and garbage collectors had agreed at about 1 a.m. to continue negotiating and, in the meantime, to avoid a work stoppage.
Click here to read more at The Seattle Times.
March 29, 2010: The union representing about 500 garbage truck drivers voted Sunday to authorize a strike against two major trash hauling companies that serve thousands of homes and businesses in King and Snohomish counties.
The near-unanimous vote by members of Teamsters Local 174 is the first step toward a possible strike, which could ultimately shut down garbage and recycling collection for whole sections of the Puget Sound region.
Click here to read more at Seattle PI.
March 26, 2010: Garbage, recycling and yard-waste haulers for more than 1 million homes in King and Snohomish counties are threatening to strike next week.
Garbage, recycling and yard-waste haulers for more than 1 million homes and businesses in King and Snohomish counties are threatening to strike next week.
About 500 workers for Waste Management and Allied Waste — members of Teamsters Local 174 — will vote Sunday whether to strike if they can't settle a contract dispute before the deal expires March 31.
Click here to read the full article from the Seattle Times.
March 25, 2010: SEATTLE - Millions of people who live in King County and parts of Snohomish County could see their garbage start piling up if trash collectors walk off the job. Waste Management and Allied Waste have been at the bargaining table with Teamsters Local 117 and 174, but talks could soon break down.
The unions claim there are two issues at stake: employee safety and pay cuts.
Click here to read more at King5.com
February 15, 2010: Can your boss hack the job you do? If you saw the clever new CBS TV show “Undercover Boss,” you know Waste Management chief Larry O’Donnell doesn’t have what it takes to do Teamster work. He actually got fired.
Read the review of the new show from Labor Notes magazine.
Reality TV Gives Corporate America a Big Wet Kissby Mark Brenner
Want to know what chutzpah means? Look no further than TV's newest reality show, “Undercover Boss.” Apparently the titans of industry aren't satisfied that they burned our economy to the ground and got nothing but a slap on the wrist from Washington. They want us to like them, too.
“Undercover Boss,” which debuted on CBS after Sunday’s Superbowl, is a corporate charm offensive. For one week the CEO of a major company goes "undercover," performing a variety of jobs at the bottom of the corporate ladder.CEO-AS-HERO
Over the course of an hour we discover that the CEO is really a nice guy. We see just how ready top brass is to reward hard-working employees and to clean up problems on the front lines.
It's a blast from the Reagan-era past: CEO-as-hero.
The first episode features Larry O'Donnell, president of Waste Management, the nation's largest trash and recycling company.
In fine superhero tradition, O'Donnell adopts an alter ego (that sounds strangely like a porn star)—Randy Lawrence—and spends a day each doing various jobs at Waste Management: sorting recycling; picking up trash at a landfill; cleaning port-a-potties in an amusement park; shadowing the manager of a landfill; and riding shotgun on a residential garbage truck route.STIFF BLUE COLLAR
You can't help but enjoy O'Donnell's ineptitude doing blue-collar work. He struggles to snatch cardboard off a recycling conveyor belt in Syracuse while his supervisor chuckles that he's working on the slowest line in the building. Almost on cue, O'Donnell misses a big piece and completely jams the machine, forcing everyone on an early lunch break.
In Florida O’Donnell gets fired for the first time in his life. His supervisor, Walter, cans him after he repeatedly fails to fill a trash bag with litter in less than 10 minutes. Walter can fill two bags of trash in that time—and he’s been on dialysis for more than 20 years!
And it wouldn’t be reality TV without an over-the-top moment—in this case O’Donnell vacuuming out the business end of a port-a-potty. For dramatic effect, the producers blur out images of a dirty diaper that O’Donnell excavates from one toilet.
We get a good laugh but the joke’s on us, because Larry O'Donnell still goes home at the end of a year with a $3 million salary.PITCH-PERFECT PITCHMAN
O'Donnell is pitch-perfect as CEO-hero. He's unfailingly polite and full of aw-shucks Southern charm. A dedicated family man, he’s also got a personal tragedy that neatly ties back to his job. The O’Donnells’ daughter Linley suffered brain damage as an infant—apparently due to a doctor not following proper procedures. Now Boss O’Donnell says he makes safety a top priority.
Out in the field our CEO-hero oozes earnestness. We see O’Donnell soaking up life lessons, as Walter talks about staying positive while living with dialysis. He marvels at Fred, who has joked and high-fived his way through 10 years of shoveling shit (literally).
And he loses sleep fretting over Jaclyn—the harried landfill manager who’s doing the job of three or four people—but who still finds time to invite O’Donnell over for family dinner in the dream home she’s struggling to hold onto.
O’Donnell does a lot of hand-wringing over the company’s productivity standards—his pet project inside corporate headquarters—when he discovers that Janice, the garbage driver, is forced to pee in a coffee can if she wants to finish her 300 pickups within the 12-13 hours allotted.
Viewers never see O’Donnell in his natural habitat, crowing about squeezing more work out of his “team.” On an investor conference call he held in March last year, he bragged that in 2008’s fourth quarter the company shed more than 800,000 “driver hours” compared to the same time the prior year.UNION? WHAT UNION?
What we also don’t see is any sign that workers at Waste Management have ever heard of unions. Although Teamsters represent thousands of workers at Waste Management, that piece of reality didn’t make it onto TV. No surprise, since the company has been aggressively trying to break the union for years.
During O’Donnell’s watch, the company has been forced to pay an $8 million legal settlement after locking out 500 Oakland garbage truck drivers in 2007.
Although failing to wring concessions out of drivers in Oakland, the company got its way in Los Angeles, where workers turned down a bad contract and struck for 12 days but were forced to take a sub-par health package or face permanent replacement.
The company also provoked a four-week strike in Milwaukee in 2008, forcing workers to dump their traditional pensions and swallow 401(k)s.
In that conference call with investors last year, Waste Management blandly reported that “labor and employee benefits costs improved by $59 million in the quarter … with most of that cost related to the withdrawal from the Teamsters’ underfunded Central States Pension Fund.”
But far from showing any resentment over corporate policies that are running them ragged and stealing their retirement, the workers on this show are bowled over with gratitude for a bit of attention from the top brass. “I’m going to remember this day forever,” Janice says after her debrief with O’Donnell. “This is really awesome.”
“It means a lot,” Walter notes. “Because most people in a position that high—you never see them, they won’t take the time out to come down and see what you’re doing or even say hello.”UGLIER THAN THE TRASH
On the show the dirtiest part of the job is the trash and human waste. But when the cameras aren’t rolling there are far worse things to see. Despite O’Donnell’s repeated avowals of his commitment to safety, Waste Management workers are three times more likely to get killed on the job than firemen, and 60 percent more likely than police officers.
One victim was Raul Figueroa, who was cut in half two years ago by a malfunctioning hydraulic arm on a garbage truck. His family later discovered that his supervisor had refused his requests for extra assistance and denied him access to a ladder so he could work more safely. After he was killed the company back-dated safety records and placed a ladder on the scene.
(For more on the health and safety problems at Waste Management read the report In Harm's Way commissioned by the Teamsters.)EMPTY PROMISES
Despite O’Donnell’s professed conversion experience—“I have got to change the way I go about my own job”—we find precious few specifics of what will change at Waste Management once the cameras go dark.
During the show O’Donnell “struggles” with the fact that his commitment to doing more with less forces Janice to pee in a coffee can. But when they sit down face to face, he doesn’t promise to lower the number of garbage cans drivers have to pick up—he says he’ll launch a task force to make Waste Management a more female-friendly workplace.
When Janice talks about supervisors in white pickup trucks who surveil drivers, O’Donnell says, “Route managers go around and do these observations, but I don't want our drivers to feel like they’re being spied upon, because that’s not what this is all about.”
What is it all about, then?
The CEO-as-TV-hero can’t utter that other p-word: profits. O’Donnell waxes eloquent about productivity, but never connects it to what he and everyone else at the top of Waste Management are focused on, fattening that bottom line.
O’Donnell does put Jaclyn on salary and folds her into the company’s bonus program—for doing the work of four people managing an upstate New York landfill. But how many other workers could get a pay bump from that $8 million they spent trying to break the union in Oakland? If Waste Management didn’t pay managers to spy on workers and buy cameras to track their every move?BRING OUT THE PITCHFORKS
What is the viewer supposed to take from the show? CEOs are good people with families. Workers are dedicated and hardworking, and the suits in corporate can’t do what they do. But, as out-of-touch as decision-makers are, when they find out about problems they’ll fix them.
So “Undercover Boss” is really a sequel to the management fads of the 1980s and 1990s—employee involvement and team concept. Those programs told workers to “work smarter, not harder,” and bosses everywhere promised to listen to workers about how to run the company.
What we learned from Corporate America’s first charm offensive (dissected by Mike Parker and Jane Slaughter in Labor Notes’ Working Smart) is that yes, management wanted workers’ ideas—so they could use them to institute speed-up and tighter management control as well as to cut jobs.
Larry O’Donnell is just a tourist in the management-by-stress workplace that his predecessors perfected over the last 30 years.
Here’s hoping that Waste Management workers set their sights higher than a corporate pat on the head. After 30 years of getting dumped on, U.S. workers have a right to be angry.
If a few of them break out the pitchforks and torches, that would make for some great TV.
September 1, 2009: ANAHEIM They routinely sort through trash bags of rotting food, used syringes and even road kill to find what can be recycled.
But that's not the part of the job trash sorters – or so-called recyclers – at Republic Services Inc. in Anaheim are complaining about. They say it's the long hours without proper breaks, working without proper protective gear and without any sun shade or protection from the elements.
Click here to read more at the OC Register.
January 10, 2009: Minnesota waste workers are using a new city law to help join our union.
Workers at Minnesota Refuse Inc. have been nonunion for years. Now they’ll get a chance to join the Teamsters without the threats and intimidation most workers face from their boss when they try to organize.
MRI is a consortium of private waste companies that haul the trash for 52,000 Minneapolis households.
In 2007, Minneapolis passed a “labor peace” ordinance that requires some city contractors to remain neutral when their workers try to unionize.
The law also requires the company to recognize a union after a majority of their workers sign cards saying they want union representation—that’s similar to how the proposed Employee Free Choice Act work.
When MRI’s contract with the city was up in December, the city insisted that the company agree to labor peace.
There is a compromise, though. The Teamsters had to agree to no strikes or picketing for the life of MRI’s five-year contract with the city.
Waste Management and Allied Waste—two major Teamster employers—refused to agree to the labor peace rule and quit MRI.
Now the other companies will take over their routes—and wastehaul workers will get the opportunity to join our union in peace.
November 17, 2008: Shareholders of Fort Lauderdale-based Republic Services and Phoenix-based Allied Waste Industries on Friday overwhelmingly approved a deal for the two waste companies to merge.
Also Friday, a union-supported group that says it advocates for competition in the waste industry issued a report challenging the merger.Click here to read more at The Miami Herald.
November 14, 2008: In September, Waste Management forced a disastrous concessionary contract on 240 Milwaukee Teamsters, which stole their pension plan. WMI management defeated their five-week strike and forced them out of the Central States Pension Plan.
Now the concern is that WMI will make the same demand when their 13 other contracts covering Central States Teamsters come up, and that other companies will follow suit.
The Milwaukee Teamsters who don’t already qualify for a full pension now will get nothing but their vested benefits, which in most cases will be very low. In place of a decent pension, the company is offering a 401(k) with a weak matching offer.
The International Union talked about using Teamster Power nationally against the corporation, but failed to act.
The time is now—before any more Teamsters’ pensions are in jeopardy—for the International Union to have a plan to protect the pensions of all WMI Teamsters.
October 13, 2008: Waste Management profits are up. And so are their attacks on Teamster members.
Today, the company announced higher than expected third quarter profit of between 62 and 63 cents per share.
That’s up 15 percent from last year’s third quarter results of 54 cents profit per share.
The announcement comes two weeks after Waste Management busted out of the Central States Pension Fund in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee WM Teamsters will now be in an inferior 401(k) plan—and the company has stopped all contributions to the pension fund.
The corporation noted that the "labor disruptions" in Milwaukee and Oakland—both provoked by management—cost them some extraordinary expenses.
Waste Management also announced it was ending its bid to buy Republic, another wastehaul company and also a major Teamster employer.
Read more about Waste Management at Bloomberg.