Locked out sanitation workers in Evansville, Indiana, are witnessing solidarity actions from their Teamsters brothers and sisters who have been participating in “rolling sympathy strikes,” according to a new Josh Eidelson piece for Salon.
The 79 locked out workers have refused to sign a new contract that would replace their pensions with 401Ks. They recognize a dangerous trend by Republic Services/Allied Waste, the second largest solid waste company in the United States. Union allies are walking out of their respective workplaces to show support for their peers in Evansville:
On May 24, locked-out Republic workers traveled to Urbana, Illinois, and started picketing a local Republic facility. In solidarity, members of Teamsters Local 26 refused to work. On May 30, Republic workers in Wayne, Michigan did the same, as did their counterparts in Richmond, California on June 1. Three days later, members of three Teamsters locals in Milpitas, California – some employed by Republic, some hired by other companies to make deliveries to Republic – followed suit. So did members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Ironworkers union hired to build a recycling facility there. On June 8, another 300 Teamsters in Long Beach, California did their own one-day sympathy strike.
A Teamsters source who requested anonymity said he expected the conflict to expand further this week, including “escalations with workers who have expired contracts and a strong possibility of those pickets being extended to other locations.”
Maurice Thomas, a Republic diesel mechanic and Teamsters shop steward, says 90% of his co-workers in Long Beach participated in the one-day work stoppage. Despite favorable contract language, Thomas says it wasn’t easy: Management “did everything they could to prevent us from doing it.”
The textbook strength-in-numbers tactic has called needed public attention to Republic’s indiscretions. According to Teamster Nation, the honoring of the picket line has not only extended into other states, but into other trades as well:
Honoring the picket line were Local 350 members who work at Republic and Local 350 members who work at five other companies that deliver to that facility. Local 70 members who work at the landfill on site wouldn’t cross the line either. IBEW and Ironworkers who are working on construction at that site refused to cross it, too.
And Teamsters from Local 665 are walking the picket line as well (they don’t have a contract with Republic).
If the Evansville employees return to work without pensions it is likely that the company will try to ram similar changes down the throats of Teamsters nationwide, a policy that will not fly with the union:
The Teamsters have also reached out to Republic’s shareholders, contrasting the cost of pension payments with a promised death benefit for Republic’s CEO, which they say is worth $23 million. Last month the union protested outside a shareholder meeting and introduced a shareholder resolution that would have given shareholders a vote on death benefits; it failed with 41% of the vote.
Republic did not respond to a request for comment, but in interviews last month, local general manager Mark McKune described the lockout as a response to “threats of war” from the union, and the proposal to replace pensions as motivated by concerns over the pension fund’s solvency.
Sympathy strikes have been re-emerging of late but they are not without limitations as contractual language disallows many unions from joining in. Luckily, the Teamsters are not under such limitations:
The Teamsters’ ability to pull them off rests in part on a “conscience clause” in some of their contracts, which specifies that workers can’t be required to work if it means crossing a picket line. (Other workers who had expired contracts have participated in solidarity strikes this year, and thus weren’t prohibited from striking.) Wherever other Teamsters – even a single one – set up a picket line, workers with a conscience clause have the right the forfeit pay and refuse work.
In March, union officials in Mobile, Alabama, credited such solidarity strikes with a big role in the contract they won at Republic. As I (Josh Eidelson) reported for Alternet, workers in Mobile struck for eight days after alleging that Republic was attempting to back out of already agreed-upon provisions in tentative contract agreements. During that strike, workers in three other cities refused work for days at a time.
“I think it’s awesome,” Mobile striker Michael McLean said during the strike. “It shows that the brotherhood is strong, wherever you’re at.”