The 99% are rising up in Georgia–Sanitation workers go on strike.

by Jim Nichols

(April16) Yesterday morning after work I headed down to the city of McDonough, to spend the day picketing with Republic Services workers who are in my union, Teamsters Local 728.

These sanitation workers went on strike at 5am yesterday after struggling over a year to gain a contract.

Teamsters at Republic Services Strike in McDonough, Georgia

The 40 drivers, helpers and mechanics who are members of Teamsters Local Union 728 in Atlanta are exercising their legal right to strike in protest of Republic’s violations of federal labor laws that protect workers’ rights. Republic broke federal law when it fired a worker because of his support for the union. The company also broke federal law when it stopped paying drivers for time they work while returning their trucks to the yard.

“I’m on strike because this giant waste corporation thinks it can get away with breaking the law to intimidate us and bully us, and cheat us out of pay for time that we worked. We organized and chose to be represented by the Teamsters in 2011, but the company refuses to bargain in good faith with us for a fair contract,” said Renard Henley, a residential driver in McDonough. “I’ve been talking with other workers on the Facebook page, and we have been following the Youngstown strike closely. We have all had enough of the company’s greed.”

“Republic Services is one of the most abusive corporations I’ve encountered,” said Randy Brown, President of Teamsters Local Union 728. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born here in Atlanta, but Republic will not give its workers in McDonough Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday. This group of workers is 90 percent African-American and have seen no wage increases for four years despite Republic making more than a half a billion dollars in profit each year.”

In Ohio, 23 workers at Republic’s Carbon Limestone Landfill outside Youngstown have been on strike since March 27. They are members of Teamsters Local Union 377. This morning they extended picket lines to Republic facilities in five Ohio cities, and close to 600 Teamster members are refusing to cross the picket lines.

Over the past year, Republic/Allied Waste has forced multiple lockouts and strikes, disrupting trash collection for hundreds of thousands of people across the United States and putting communities at risk. Republic earned profits of more than $572 million in 2012. The company’s primary shareholder is Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, the second richest person in the world.

“Bill Gates is worth $66 billion. Republic earns more than $8 billion each year. So why are they cheating workers out of money they need to feed their families? Why does this corporation lock workers out of their jobs when they want to keep their retirement benefits? I don’t know how the people at this company sleep at night,” said Robert Morales, Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling and Related Industries Division.

“In January many of us had to take the day off unpaid to march in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. day march in Atlanta,” Henley said. “We marched alongside our colleagues who work for Republic in Memphis, and it became clear very quickly that we all needed to come together as one to be able to stand up to this corporation. Republic’s bullying will end because we, the workers, will stand up as long as it takes to stop it.”

Republic/Allied Waste’s total revenues were more than $8.1 billion in 2012. Bill Gates is the primary shareholder of Republic stock. Gates owns approximately $2.4 billion worth of stock, or 25 percent of the total worth of the company. Michael Larsen, Gates’ investment manager, sits on Republic’s board of directors.

Henry Daily Herald | Sanitation workers picket in labor dispute

Workers employed by Republic Services of McDonough have been on strike since 5 a.m. Monday for what they are calling unfair labor practices.

And they are getting comfortable on the picket line, so don’t expect them to give up any time soon.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the workers said the company still remains silent. The strikers’ response?

Grilling out hot-dogs and brots, and ordering Chick-fil-a from the picket line.

“It’s disappointing to me because I would have thought we could work something out,” said worker Tjamar Branch.

Branch added that he hopes the strike can end “as soon as possible, but they’re going to have to come up with something.”

About 30 workers are carrying signs that read “I am still a man” and “Sanitation Workers United” while the Republic Service garbage trucks sit abandoned across the parking lot.

Even workers who were supposed to be on vacation took time to visit the picket line.

“We just wanted to be treated fairly,” said worker Mondrez Flemister.

Republic Services Inc. provides sanitation and recycling services to the McDonough area, but Flemister alleged the company violated federal labor law by putting drivers in unsafe situations.

“The unfair labor practices that they’re doing, they won’t stop doing,” said worker Renard Henry. “They continue to do things that are illegal. They have unsafe trucks and if you try to shut them down, you could possibly be written up.”

Henry said workers should only work 12 to 14 hours by DOT standards once a week, but he said Republic Services forces workers to work 14 to 16 hours 2 or 3 days a week.

“Everything else has to be under 12, but you say ‘Hey, I’m over my hours’ and they’ll still force you to stay out and finish, putting yourself in jeopardy as well as the customers because you’re out real late and your exhausted,” Henry said. “They’re not concerned about that. They’re concerned about picking the trash up. ”

Henry also said the company forces workers to drive trucks with oil leaks and bad breaks.

“I have a truck that’s not even two years old and without the power on, the arm moves out on it’s own, so it’ll hit something and you won’t even know it,” Henry said. “It has alarms on it, but the alarm works when it wants to. Last week, we had a guy go down Hwy 16 and the arm just went out and hit a car. I’ve been writing that up since December and it still hasn’t gotten fixed.”

The strike has even picked up wind across the country, where thousands of workers say they are “standing up for their rights.”

Employees of Republic Services are now on strike in five Ohio cities and Memphis, Tenn.

Flemister said they have been trying to negotiate a contract with officials since December 2011, but the company hasn’t been taking workers seriously

“If I don’t stand up for what I believe in for my kids, who will do it?” Flemister asked.

Throughout the day people in the community stopped by, many of them joining the picket line for a few minutes, to show their support and let the workers know they supported their efforts. Car honks and handshakes that kept the workers motivated and energetic.

About 3pm yesterday afternoon the Charlie Flemming, the President of the Georgia AFL-CIO stopped by to speak to the workers and voice the support of the over 120,000 members from over 220 unions throughout the state.

The mostly overcast day left me forgetting to throw in my suncreen so by 5pm as I left the workers still standing strong and fired up I was pretty well burnt and physically drained. But it was a good reminder to me that standing up to the 1% isn’t easy. That’s why its important for members of the community to come out in support for these workers, and workers all over the nation, when they go on strike.

Dr. King was right, “A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” But dignity and self-respect will only take a human body so far–the sun will beam down on your body, the stresses of every day life will wear and tear on workers who have families to support–it takes a community coming together and supporting those who have had enough from the 1%.

This fight is not just about these workers, or striking Republic Waster workers all across the nation. Unsafe trucks in our neighborhoods just to feed corporate greed is not what the 99% need.

Pay and benefits that give scraps to the workers and increase stock portfolios of the 1% don’t help build strong vibrant local economies–something every American has learned over the past few years.

The fight against the 1% is a fight for a strong middle class. When workers receive good pay and benefits they spend those dollars in the local economy–a flourishing, dare I say militant, labor movement is needed if we want to have a vibrant economy. Want a flourishing small business sector, well make sure workers within the corporations owned by the mega-wealthy are sharing in the prosperity their labor is creating.

Want to make sure you have good tax revenue receipts for city, county, and state governments throughout the nation?–well make sure you support the 99% when they rise up and tell the owners profit making corporations that the workers have a right share in the prosperity (via better working conditions and better pay and benfitis).

The 1% isn’t spending those profits in McDonough Georgia,or Youngstown Ohio, they are spending them in Paris, and London, and Dubai; they are investing them in risky financial ventures that pay out big bucks until they crash the economy and get bailed out. The 1% isn’t investing their excess profits in the kind of investments which will create good jobs but a strong middle class spending their hard earned dollars will create the kind of demand that will give incentive’s for private sector job creation in a way that Politicians blowing hot air about “welfare bums needing to go find jobs” never ever will.

One of the highlights of Day Two on the picket line is when a Republic customer came and dropped off some of her trash and told the company she was in 100% support of the workers and expected the company to negotiate with the workers.

Jim Nichols is a Teamster activist in Atlanta. He blogs at Under the Name of Reason.

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