Local News

Sanitation workers win 6% wage increase, boosted benefits in latest contract

Residents of Fullerton will recall that garbage collection ground to a halt on December 9 when 400 sanitation workers went on strike against their employer, Republic Services. Trash piled up at the curb during the holiday season for a full week as the union representing the workers and negotiators at Republic hashed out a new five-year contract.

Sanitation workers picketing outside Republic Services facility during the December strike. Photo courtesy of Adan Alvarez.

Pickup resumed on December 17, but what did the workers win in negotiations, and how?

The Observer interviewed Adan Alvarez, representative for the Teamsters Local 396, which represents the striking workers as part of over 12,000 workers in various industries across the southland. The new contract, Alvarez said, grants workers a 6% wage increase in the first year, with smaller increases in the years to follow. It also allows workers to maintain full health benefits for their families, even as Republic’s cost for these benefits continue to rise. Finally, the contract contains significant increases in workers’ pensions. Over 90% of employees represented by the teamsters voted in favor of the new contract, a number well in excess of the simple majority required to adopt it.

Alvarez attributes the strike’s success to the support of the public and of elected officials, some of whom walked the picket line with the workers. He noted, for example, that the city of Huntington Beach threatened fines against Republic if it failed to live up to its contract by leaving garbage and recyclables uncollected on city streets.

The 6% increase in hourly wages won in the contract is particularly important for the sanitation workers because their hours have lengthened during the pandemic. Many Republic employees continue to work substantial amounts of overtime, with workers earning overtime pay for hours in excess of 40 per week, and double pay for shifts that exceed 12 hours. It’s not uncommon to see garbage trucks rumbling down residential streets before sunrise and continuing their pickup well into the night. Alvarez attributes the trend to Republic’s decision to add new routes without hiring additional workers, resulting in long shifts.

“The company will run its business as it wants. We can’t control that,” Alvarez said. “But we can make it lucrative for our members.”