San Jose recycling service disrupted by brief strike
Roughly a dozen union members, including workers from other companies, took to the sidewalks in front of the California Waste Solutions facility in North San Jose to strike before an agreement was reached on Jan. 6, 2022. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Local workers reached an agreement Friday afternoon with San Jose’s largest recycling hauler after a brief strike that threatened service for more than 175,000 homes.

    The strike came after Teamsters Local 350 and California Waste Solutions (CWS) deadlocked over a contract for 10 clerical workers who provide customer service. Union members claimed the company was taking away workers’ protections, while the recycling company said the union’s requests were unfair and unreasonable. Negotiations went until midnight Thursday but yielded little success, both the union and the company said.

    At the center of the fight was a letter the union demanded CWS leaders sign. The letter, according to company officials, would strip the hauler’s management rights, freeze those 10 positions and not allow the company to fire or lay them off.

    Early Friday morning, roughly a dozen union members, including workers from other companies, took to the sidewalks in front of the CWS facility in North San Jose to protest the stalled contract. The strike, supported by the South Bay Labor Council and local officials including state Sen. Dave Cortese and San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz, lasted roughly six hours before workers and the company came to an agreement.

    Sherri Ornelas, a clerical worker at California Waste Solutions for 16 years, was among a dozen union members participated in the strike on Friday. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    David Duong, president and CEO of California Waste Solutions, said San Jose residents should feel minimum impacts from the strike. On Friday morning, he called the strike “ridiculous” and said the company had agreed to most of the union’s demands except for the letter. He said the union went on strike because it represents workers at two other hauling companies—GreenWaste and Green Team—and they wanted to leverage the situation in upcoming contract negotiations. Union representatives said the claim is false.

    “I’m happy we are able to mitigate the strike,” Duong told San José Spotlight. “We’re glad to be able to bring employees back to work to continue our services.”

    The customer service employees say the protection clause has always been part of their contract. The clause protects their jobs from being subcontracted out, workers said.

    “Losing this could have a huge impact on our workers,” Sherri Ornelas, a clerical worker at the company for 16 years, told San José Spotlight before the agreement was reached. “This could impact our livelihoods, but it could also impact (the operation) with the amount of calls and job duties we have.”

    But CWS representatives said workers’ demands would rob their ability to run the business. Johnny Duong, the company’s chief operations officer, said the earlier proposed contract already provided workers protection. The company had also agreed to higher wages and better benefits for customer service workers. The additional protection clause, as written previously, would have barred the company from removing the 10 positions—regardless of the circumstance.

    “Basically it means we can never let them go, until there’s an act of God or terrorism,” Johnny Duong told San José Spotlight. “That’s unreasonable for the company.”

    CWS and the union ultimately agreed on new language that would protect the clerical positions, but also give the company the ability to make changes to the workforce if needed.

    “If the city of San Jose has lesser services for whatever reasons, then we have the right to do what we have to do under the new contract,” Johnny Duong said.

    CWS has provided recycling services to San Jose since 2002, covering areas in North, East and South San Jose and the downtown areas. The company also handles junk removal in the city. While the contract negotiation only impacted 10 positions, other Local 350 union members—drivers, plant workers and mechanics—also observed the strike. This meant the company’s recycling pick-ups and junk removals in San Jose were halted. Workers at CWS in Oakland did not participate in the strike.

    Recycling trucks are scheduled to return to their routes Saturday, Johnny Duong said.

    “We want to make sure that we can be back on our normal schedule by Monday,” he said.

    Union leaders applauded the compromise reached Friday.

    “People are feeling extremely excited and proud of themselves,” union representative Robert Sandoval told San José Spotlight, adding the union has negotiated for more than a year. “They stuck together for a cause they believed in and they won.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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