by Photo by Sarah Berjan

Dozens of unionized sanitation workers attended a Jan.11 Chula Vista City Council meeting where city leaders called on Republic Services to end what is now a 27-day strike calling for better wages and safer working conditions. 

City council members considered the possibility of declaring a public health emergency, immediately crediting affected customers for the time they have not received services, enforcement, taking legal actions, and even ending the contract with the waste hauler company based in Phoenix, Ariz.

“I just want to let you know that it disappoints the hell out of me that we’ve gotten to this point because it didn’t have to get to this point,” Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas told Republic Services representatives. “The strike has to end and it has to end with a fair contract.”

This meeting comes after numerous failed contract negotiations between Republic Services and Teamsters Local 542, who represent over 250 sanitation workers that have been on strike since Dec.17. The strike has affected Chula Vista and areas of San Diego as neighborhoods accumulate mounds of waste which have created public health issues, and attracted various breeds of pests and vermin amid an ongoing pandemic.  

“The workers took on this action to show the company that they mean business, and they need to be respected. We’ve reached our boiling point, but that has boiled over and now it's time to show us respect,” said Teamster Local 542 Organizer, Salvador Abrica. 

According to Manuel Medrano, the city's environmental services manager, there were almost 500 overflow reports via email and about 400 calls that were coming into various departments in the city and in the environmental services hot-line as well. Multiple reports of illegal dumping at city facilities and parks were reported due to the failure of waste pick-up services. 

“We apologize for having to go this route. We want to get back and clean our city. We are a part of the community, and we are hurting just like you. We appreciate your support and your patience through this process,” Abrica said. 

Under their current contract with Republic Services, sanitation workers are being paid $24.60 an hour and have negotiated for a $2 wage increase. In addressing the company, Salas noted the profits seen by the company which exceeds $1Billion, and that its board of directors were each awarded $230,000 this past year. 

“What the teamsters are asking for is not a whole hell of a lot,” Salas said in addressing Republic services. “If it's not for the labor of sanitation workers your multi-billion dollar corporation wouldn't be worth a dime. We need service restored immediately.” 

Republic Services representatives hailed from the company’s headquarters to address what Richard Coupland, a vice president with Republic Services called “an unusual situation”. He said the striking workers make similar average salaries, and sometimes about other essential workers such as teachers and paramedics on their current contract.

“It’s been extremely difficult with this particular situation to find that middle ground because the original requests made by the union were so far out of the market in San Diego. We weren't able to understand and they weren't able to provide us the details that underpinned their position,” Coupland said. 

Republic Services General Managers Matt Kross and Neil Mohr said the company is “compelled at this stage to post positions to hire additional replacements,” but welcome employees when they are ready to come back as they would like to reconsider the company’s latest offer, which was rejected last week. 

Negotiations between workers and the waste hauler are expected to continue.

Chula Vista's contract with the waste hauler expires on June 30, 2024. According to the contract, Republic Services is excused from performing its duties due to “uncontrollable circumstances”, which the company declared to the city on Dec.17, according to Medrano. 

Republic Services may be held liable for all expenses for their failure to complete services under the city's “Self Help” rights within the contract. Councilmembers Steve Padilla and Jill Galvez recommended the city exercise this right in order to provide immediate relief through city-established and staffed collection sites with provided equipment and services from the waste hauler at their expense. 

A request was made to the city manager to return within 90 days with a suggested process in anticipation of the contract’s expiration in 2024, but Galvez urged an immediate solution. 

No formal action was made at Tuesday's meeting, but the council went into a closed session to further discuss options within their contract with Republic Services. 

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