Under “labor peace ordinance,” Teamsters begin organizing Minneapolis waste haulers

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Teamsters Local 120 has won a neutrality agreement with Minneapolis Refuse, Inc. in a campaign to organize waste-hauling employees.

MRI, a 13-company consortium, recently was awarded a five-year contract by the City of Minneapolis to continue collecting residential garbage and recycling in approximately one-half of the City.

Background on Labor Peace ordinance:

Minneapoils City Council adopts ‘labor peace’ proposal for city contracts exceeding $250,000 (Minneapolis Labor Review, 9-20-07)

Text of Labor Peace Resolution

“The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and the support we got from president Bill McCarthy was invaluable as well as legal counsel from Brendan Cummins,” Local 120’s Slawson said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

“It’s been a lot of hard work and patience and working with the City,” McCarthy said. “I want to thank the leaders of Teamsters Local 120 for following this process to the end and coming out with an agreement that is a model agreement.” He specifically cited the work of Rhys Ledger, Local 120’s strategic campaigns director, who was Local 120’s point person in negotiations with the City and MRI.

Support from the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak also was vital.

Ward 8 city council member Elizabeth Glidden, who helped lead the 2007 effort to pass the labor peace ordinance, also led efforts to apply the ordinance to the waste-hauling contract. “This was our first opportunity to apply our city policy regarding labor peace to a major contract,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it happened.”

“The City’s interest is that we do not want a work interruption,” Glidden emphasized.

In the case of waste-collection, “it’s a health issue for the city of Minneapolis to make sure there’s no work stoppage,” added Sandy Colvin Roy, Ward 12 city council member, who also led the effort to apply labor peace to the waste-hauling contract.

Insisting on labor peace agreements for large city contracts where proprietary interest applies can lead to benefits for workers, both Glidden and Colvin Roy noted.

“It opens the door to how that vendor and labor can come to an agreement,” Glidden said.

“It’s good for our city when people can have a living wage from the work they do,” Colvin Roy said.

The MRLF’s McCarthy and the Teamsters’ Ledger both credited Mayor R.T. Rybak for speaking forcefully for applying labor peace to the waste-hauling contract at the final city council meeting where the question came to a vote.

“I won’t have the City giving an advantage to companies who don’t provide an even playing field for unions,” Rybak later told the Labor Review.

Rybak noted that the recent 2008 election campaign featured ads funded by big business that criticized labor-endorsed candidates for backing the Employee Free Choice Act, federal legislation that would allow more workers to organize through the majority sign-up process.

“People can run all the negative ads they want but we’re showing this can work in Minneapolis,” Rybak said.

Attorney Cummins emphasized that the City’s labor peace policy, however, is strictly about ensuring the City’s interest in uninterrupted delivery of services.

Once the city council applies the labor peace policy to a contract, Cummins noted, it’s up to organized labor to use the opportunity to organize workers and negotiate a contract with the vendor.

“The Teamsters’ victory was their own, negotiated with MRI,” Cummins noted.

“What is good about this agreement is that it allows for good terms of access for union organizers to meet with employees on-site and explain the advantages of unionization,” Cummins said. “It’s a great opportunity that the union will have to organize.”

For the City, the labor peace requirement ensures uninterrupted delivery of services.

“For us, it is an organizing tool,” said McCarthy. “It is an instrument we can use now.”

The labor peace component of the waste-hauling contract wasn’t uniformly welcomed by the industry. One vendor, Aspen Waste, lost the opportunity to take over 40 percent of the routes out for bid because the company wouldn’t agree to the City’s labor peace requirement.

In addition, two companies who were part of MRI — Waste Management and Allied — withdrew from MRI rather than comply with the labor peace requirement.

“We effectively drove them out of the market,” Teamsters Local 120’s Slawson said. Nationally, he added, Waste Management and Allied are two of the worst union-busting firms in the waste-hauling industry.

The Waste Management and Allied routes will be divided among the remaining members of MRI, who will be collecting trash and recycling from 52,000 homes in Minneapolis.

As the Labor Review went to press, Teamsters Local 120 was awaiting employee lists from MRI. The number of workers wasn’t yet known, Slawson said, but “we expect a sizable number.”

“We’ve had discussions with workers throughout the process,” Local 120’s Ledger reported. He added: “It’s refreshing to initiate an organizing campaign and know you’re not putting workers in jeopardy.”

Typically, employers oppose union organizing drives with threats and intimidation.

Giving workers the opportunity to organize through majority sign-up — without employer opposition — may be controversial now, Mayor Rybak noted, but he hoped the example of the Minneapolis waste-hauling contract eventually will help everyone see “it’s just common sense.”

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Visit the federation’s website, www.minneapolisunions.org

But first, MRI needed to agree to abide by the City’s 2007 “labor peace” ordinance, which requires that contractors “…shall be or become signatory to a valid collective bargaining agreement…” when the city has a “proprietary interest” in uninterrupted delivery of services. The labor organization contract with the employer, in turn, must include a no-strike pledge.

Once the City determined that the labor peace ordinance should apply to the waste-hauling contract, the stage was set for Teamsters Local 120 to initiate organizing non-union MRI.

“We’re rolling. We’ve got a team of international organizers that are coming in to work with Local 120,” reported Bradley A. Slawson, Jr., Teamsters Local 120 president.

Each of the 13 MRI members — and MRI — have signed identical agreements with Teamsters Local 120, pledging to stay neutral in the Teamsters’ organizing campaign.

Under the agreement, the employers agree to recognize Teamsters Local 120 as the employees’ bargaining agent if a majority of employees sign union authorization cards.

The employers also agree to provide Teamsters Local 120 organizers with access to employees during work time and to provide Local 120 with employee names, addresses, and phone numbers.

Teamsters Local 120’s win of the neutrality agreement with MRI comes after two-plus years of behind-the-scenes work led by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, first, to win the 2007 labor peace ordinance, then, to make sure the ordinance was applied to the waste-hauling contract.