Trash trouble: Workers return to picket lines as latest Republic Services offer rejected

SAN DIEGO – No end in sight to a sanitation workers’ strike in its third week after members of Teamsters Local 542 rejected the latest offer from waste management company Republic Services on Thursday.

Ricardo González, a striking Republic Services employee, says union workers are ultimately fighting for a better way of life with the recent garbage strike. (FOX 5 photo)

More than 250 unionized workers left work last month to strike for higher wages, better benefits and better safety conditions. But as negotiations with Republic have yet to bear fruit, workers returned to the picket line this week as residents and some elected officials are increasingly concerned about the trash piling up in San Diego County communities.

“We are not going to settle for less,” said union worker Ricardo González. “We have to get what we want.”

González, who is on strike along with his coworkers, said the effort is more than his job. A husband and father, including a 2-month-old baby, said that he is ultimately fighting for a better way of life.

“It’s overwhelming because I just had a newborn,” she said. “It is 2 months old… but it is a sacrifice, not only for me, but for the people who want to be here. It’s not just for us now; it’s for the future. “

In a statement Thursday to FOX 5, Republic Services said it is “disappointed” that the union rejected its latest offer for a new labor contract to end the strike.

“Republic and the union had met to negotiate 15 times, five of them with a federal mediator,” the company statement read. “The company’s offering included a highly competitive salary and full compensation package and was supported and encouraged by partners and city leadership. Until further notice, Republic’s Emergency Operations Plan will continue to be implemented. “

One of those measures includes the use of so-called Blue Crew relief drivers, essentially replacement workers, “to advance service to our customers,” according to the company. González said the relief team does not compare favorably with him and the other striking employees.

“They can’t do what we’re doing,” he said, “so it shows that just because they know how to drive doesn’t mean they can do what we’re doing.”

Republic Services also thanked its municipal partners and clients for their patience in the midst of the ongoing strike. But it is also clear that patience is waning as the strike drags on.

Chula Vista City Manager Maria Kachadooria addressed the strike in a statement Wednesday, acknowledging that it has come at a “price tag for our residents.” An update on the strike is scheduled to be on the agenda at the Chula Vista City Council meeting next week to discuss proposed measures should the strike continue.

“Please note that city leadership is heavily involved in this matter, including the city attorney’s office,” Kachadooria said. “We are currently working directly with Republic Services to ensure that, at a minimum, garbage is collected and disposed of properly while they resolve their employment issues. I have directed our Parks and Public Works teams to deal with any trash that is placed in the public right-of-way, particularly near our storm drains.

“We are also working to restore recycling and green waste disposal services, with alternatives planned if service is not properly resumed this week. We do not have the personnel or the equipment to collect the containers and assume the services provided by Republic Services ”.

Last week, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said he had been in discussions with the company and its workers, noting that the city is reviewing its franchise agreement with Republic “to determine compliance options to address non-compliance with your terms “.

Meanwhile, Gloria urges garbage collection customers to contact the company directly to request garbage collection. You can do this by phone at 619-421-9400 or by email at CustomerServiceSD@RepublicServices.com.

Others speaking out about the strike include the vice chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Nora vargas and now a former California Assemblyman Lorraine gonzalez.

Despite failed rounds of negotiations, employees who spoke to FOX 5 on Thursday said they just want to get back to work.

“We hope that hardened hearts will soften and we can get back to work and serve our community,” said striking worker Michael Bernardo.

González even apologized to the community for how the prolonged strike has impacted them.

“Just get naked with us and eventually we’ll be there again,” he said.

FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this story.

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