Editor’s Note: Read the most recent development on this issue, published Dec. 16.

Orange County residents are getting a firsthand education in municipal trash politics, amidst an ongoing labor strike that’s halted garbage pickups across neighborhoods serviced by waste collection company Republic Services. 

More than 400 workers are on strike, having not reached a new contract with the company over what some attribute to excessive working hours, Republic offering bonuses to workers without union bargaining, and alleged threats of reprisal by the company against workers who strike.

The strike – organized by the local arm of a national labor union representing Republic’s Orange County employees, Teamsters Local 396 – has prompted this question: 

For how long will uncollected trash pile up across north and central county?

Republic, along with some city leaders, told Voice of OC that a resolution may happen soon and normal trash service levels across north and central county are within sight – though the strike was still going, Wednesday afternoon. 

The company did not respond to questions about worker complaints over their conditions and alleged threats of reprisal by the company against those on strike.

Trash collection workers say this dispute – and the service backups – could stretch throughout the holidays, if need be.

Meanwhile, some cities are forced to find other ways of picking up neighborhood trash.

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Here are the cities with areas serviced by Republic, according to city officials and the company website:

  • Huntington Beach
  • Anaheim
  • Fountain Valley
  • Garden Grove
  • Seal Beach
  • Yorba Linda 
  • Brea 
  • Chino Hills (San Bernardino County) 
  • Fullerton 
  • Villa Park  
  • La Habra Heights 
  • Placentia

Republic Services, the national waste hauler with an estimated $10 billion in total yearly revenue, responded to Voice of OC requests for comment Wednesday with a written statement, saying lines of communication with labor have opened up and a resolution may come soon. 

“Republic Services is encouraged that negotiations have resumed with the union representing our Orange County employees, and we feel we are making progress toward a competitive contract that is fair for all,” the company wrote.

Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize said she had heard that, on Dec. 14, “Republic and its employees came to what it looked like was some kind of agreement.” 

“Both parties attended the city council meeting last night and both spoke in public comment stating they felt they had an agreement,” Delgleize said in a Wednesday phone interview. 

At that meeting, the City Council declared a local emergency over the service disruptions.

Yet scores of workers remained on strike Wednesday afternoon, picketing “24/7” at Republic’s offices, said Adan Alvarez, a spokesperson for the union which represents Republic workers and has organized the strike, Teamsters 396. 

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Asked about local officials’ and Republic’s statement that there’s been progress toward a deal, Adan deferred to another coordinator for the union, Andy Marshall. 

Marshall did not respond to phone and text messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Teamsters Local 396’s most recent labor contracts with Republic Services expired on September 30, and members voted to authorize a strike on November 23 after not agreeing on a new contract with the company. 

Alvarez attributed much of the issue to working conditions, saying employees have excessive hours, statements by Republic management have threatened retaliation against people on strike, and “the company gave workers a bonus without bargaining with the union first.”

“We agree our workers deserve to be compensated. But that should be bargained with the union,” Alvarez said.

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Alvarez said the company “has reached out, so that’s a step in the right direction and we’re hoping this can get resolved.”

However, “these workers are ready to do whatever it takes to be treated with respect,” Alvarez said. “They’re on strike and will remain on strike for the foreseeable future.”

James Sanabria, a 51-year-old Garden Grove resident and trash hauler for Republic who works a route in Huntington Beach, said he’s spent more time at work than with his own family. 

“It’s a lot of hours of work, 14 hours Monday through Saturday,” Sanabria said in a Wednesday phone interview, adding that during the pandemic, trash haulers faced increased risk collecting waste from hospitals, schools and senior care centers.

“The company we work for treats us like a number,” he said. 

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Asked what exactly Republic can do to fix the situation, Sanabria declined to go too much into specifics due to the delicate nature of bargaining but said he wants to see more reasonable hours and benefits.

He also said his own trash pickup has been impacted by the worker strike. 

“These workers are also residents in the impacted communities we’re talking about — they live in the communities served by Republic Services,” said Alvarez in a separate interview.

Impacted cities were forced to offer limited service amidst workers’ absence. 

Seal Beach, for example, had to open up its city yard on Dec. 14 for two large trash roll-off bins available for public use.  

The city also provided limited commercial collection and encouraged businesses to unlock gates and bins to provide access. 

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Further east, the City of Anaheim has a contingency plan for such disruptions, stipulated in its municipal waste hauling contract with the company. 

The city “started seeing partial residential service on Monday. That has expanded throughout the week and will continue to do so,” said city spokesman Mike Lyster in an emailed response to questions Wednesday.

“We are also seeing expanded service to critical locations including healthcare sites, schools, and businesses,” Lyster said, adding: 

“Anaheim is the only impacted city seeing this level of service.”

Huntington Beach rolled out five trash drop-off locations available for emergency trash disposal, at Edison Park and Community Center, Greer Park, Meadowlark Golf Club, Murdy Park and Community Center, and the Public Works Yard. 

Delgleize said the city will also look into having other companies provide emergency trash service in the interim until Republic’s labor dispute is sorted out. 

“This is not my first rodeo,” she said, “But I will say based on past experience, and I mean a very long time, the city has always had a good relationship with Republic and Rainbow before it.”

That’s one of the reasons Delgleize said she feels good “about the fact they will move along. We made it very clear to them that if they did not come through, as promised, that it would not be good.” 

“And this would be a horrible time of the year to have that.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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