There appears to be no resolution in sight to a sanitation worker strike that has left Chula Vista and parts of San Diego without trash service for nearly a month, and frustration among city leaders is reaching a boiling point.
"This disappoints the hell out of me because it didn't have to get this point," Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas said, lashing out at Republic Services executives at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "The demands are not that far off to make the Teamsters whole on what they’re asking for. The strike has to end and has to end with a fair contract to our sanitation workers. Get them back on the job. Without them, your multibillion-dollar corporation wouldn't be worth a dime. We need service restored immediately and customers given credit."
The Teamsters Local 542 strike started Dec. 17. A spokesperson told NBC 7 they’re asking Republic Services for better pay, improved working conditions and safer equipment.
Prior to the meeting, Mayor Salas told NBC 7 she and her constituents were losing their patience. Republic Services responded with the following statement:
"Republic Services shares Mayor Salas’ frustration that the union-led work stoppage has yet to be resolved. We have met with the union for negotiations on a new contract 15 times, beginning well in advance of the contract expiration date. During this process, we conducted an extensive market analysis and found that our wages and benefits were very competitive among our industry in the Chula Vista/San Diego market. The offer we put forth includes significant increases in wages and benefits in addition to other enhancements to our employees’ total compensation packages. Although we were disappointed to learn that the Union voted down our proposal on Jan. 5, that offer still stands. We look forward to speaking before the Chula Vista City Council this [Tuesday] evening."
Most of the 260 striking employees are drivers that earn around $24.60 per hour, according to a board member with Local 542. They're hoping to get closer to $31, which was the average hourly pay for all jobs in San Diego County in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To get there, Local 542 is trying to negotiate a $2 hourly raise with $1 increases each year until the current contract expires in 2025.
“That contract is not a good one,” Salas told NBC 7 Tuesday.
Richard Copeland with Republic Services said what they're offering the union, including benefits, overtime and allowance, is already on par with some police and paramedics in Chula Vista.
"They fall squarely within and above their essential worker colleagues. That’s on the current contract. We’ve been working a month to improve that situation," Copeland said.
“I’ve seen the proposal that Republic’s been offering, and I don’t think that it’s enough,” Mayor Salas said prior to the meeting. “It’s really ludicrous that Republic is saying that ‘They’re like family,’ and they want them to get back to work. Well, you know what? Stop treating them like poor stepchildren.”
Following Tuesday's meeting, the City Council is looking into several temporary and permanent remedies that will return trash service.
Councilmember Jill Galvez called on the City Manager to declare a public health state of emergency and invoke the "Self Help" option in their contract with Republic Services. That would allow the city to bring in contractors to clean up trash and charge Republic Services for the contractors' work.
Councilmember Steve Padilla suggested the city reopen bidding for a new waste company if the strike and trash pile-up issues aren't resolved.
"Based on overwhelming documentation... the current circumstances are creating a clear and ongoing impact to sanitation, public health and welfare," Padilla wrote in a letter to the City Manager, City Clerk and City Attorney.
Salas agreed with Padilla, saying said she wants the city to begin the process of finding a new sanitation partner, or even consider taking over the services itself.
The Mayor also said Chula Vista should look into refunds from Republic Services for customers who paid but never received services the past four weeks.
In the meantime, Republic Services said they brought in 100 replacement workers running 41 routes in Chula Vista. A statement sent Monday said, “Republic Services is picking up residential trash, recycling and green waste carts this week in Chula Vista and in unincorporated San Diego County with the help of our Blue Crew relief employees. Due to potential contamination by weather and/or other trash, all three types of waste are being disposed of as trash this week. We are bringing in additional relief crews to help us reach even more customers. We continue to coordinate with our municipal partners as we work toward a long-term solution, and we thank customers for their understanding.”