By Ken Epstein
Workers at Waste Management have a lot of reasons not to oppose the agreement between the City of Oakland and California Waste Solutions (CWS), ending the city’s decades old contract with Waste Management.
Under the new deal, Waste Management’s employees are guaranteed jobs and union protections. They all will be able to
move over to CWS and continue as members of their union, requirements that the City Council placed on both bidders for the contract.
In addition, Waste Management has a history of anti-labor practices, including a lockout of its workers in 2007 that left garbage piling up on the streets of Oakland for one month.
Waste Management also shut down its customer service center in Oakland, which is now moving to Arizona, perhaps to be replaced by automated answering machines.
In its “best and final offer,” the company defines answering customer phone calls as “any method of picking up customer calls, including recorded greetings.”
Yet Marty Frates, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 70, which represents many CWS and Waste Management employees, remains in favor of Waste Management and has reportedly encouraged workers to serve as petition gatherers for the referendum organized by political consultant Larry Tramutola to force the city into a special election to overturn the garbage contract.
In a Sept. 8 letter to the city, Frates denies union involvement in the Waste Management campaign but left an opening for his members’ participation in signature gathering.
“We understand why Waste Management is doing what they are doing, and I am sure many of our members support their issues,” he said.
“I want to go on record about the rumors being circulated that Local 70 is behind and supports Waste Management’s lawsuit and referendums to challenge the City Council’s decision,” he said. “Local 70 is not behind any of this,” he said, though the union “did not like the decision of the City Council.”
“Local 70 will keep its commitment to make this transition work and that our members do the right thing,” he added.
Councilmember and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan criticized Waste Management for its past record of harming Oakland and its own employees.
“Not only is Waste Management is the company that right now is trying to deceive Oakland voters into higher rates for worse service, this is the same company that locked out it its workers and refused to pick up the trash for a month in 2007,” she said.
As a result of a city lawsuit, Waste Management was required to pay a $7.9 million settlement with the city, she said.
In this year’s Waste Management proposal, which the council rejected, the company added a provision that a lockout would be considered “a force of nature” for which the company would not be legally responsible.
“You would think that city staff would want to put stricter penalties on the company,” said Kaplan. “It was horrible for Oakland. They left trash on our streets for weeks.”
Signing a contract with CWS means “more stable jobs, long-term good paying jobs for Oakland residents, which will stabilize neighborhoods” and counter some of the forces of gentrification, said Kaplan.
Though Waste management pledged to a 50 percent local hiring agreement, only 21 percent of its employees live in Oakland. At CWS, which since its inception has hired locally, 69 percent of its workers are Oakland residents.
“CWS is going to hire local people to answer customer service calls,” Kaplan continued. “There will be local people answering the phone calls.” Customer concerns “will not being go to machines in Arizona.”
“CWS listened and responded to what the council asked for,” said Kaplan. Waste Management ignored the council’s requests,” made in public meetings and written documents, and then “they acted surprised, trying to say they didn’t know we wanted those things,” she said.