WARREN - Retirement benefits may be the only issue lying between management at Republic Services / Allied Waste in Youngstown and Teamsters Local 377, officials on both sides said.
The labor contract was expected to expire at midnight, but at least one more negotiating session is scheduled for mid-November.
''I expect that we will continue to negotiate,'' Republic Services / Allied Waste General Manager Douglas Dunn said Wednesday, less than 12 hours before the contract was set to expire. Dunn pointed out that once the contract expires, the Teamsters will be able to strike without notice. If that were to happen, Dunn reassured that the "needs of the community will be met."
He declined to say how that would be accomplished. ''We are not focusing on that. We are going to be able to come to a resolution, therefore avoiding that potential,'' Dunn said. ''We respect what our people do and pay them well for doing it.''
He said the average worker earns about $43,000 a year.
Republic Services / Allied Waste is a nationwide company. Local negotiations are ongoing with the crews that provide service to areas of Niles, Liberty, Girard, Howland, Lordstown, Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville and other nearby communities. The contract would apply to about 120 workers that provide service to commercial, residential, landfill workers and mechanics.
''We are still bargaining in good faith,'' said Ralph Sam Cook, secretary / treasurer of Teamsters Local 377 in Youngstown. ''Our members are going to work tonight.''
Cook noted negotiations on the last contract dragged on for nearly 16 months after the Oct. 31, 2009, expiration date without a work stoppage.
The company has proposed moving employees out of the Central States Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund and replacing it with a 401(k) program. Dunn said the non-union workers, including himself, already use a 401(k) retirement plan. The idea has been met with opposition.
Rather than a company-funded pension program, the company has proposed a dollar-for-dollar match of the employee's contributions up to 3 percent, and then another 50 percent match on an additional 2 percent. He did not provide figures indicating how the company's costs would vary from one retirement program to the other.
Dunn said the existing pension plan is listed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as in "critical status" that is not expected to be solvent beyond 2023.
But union negotiators aren't satisfied with that argument.
''We did ask if they could guarantee if the 401(k) investment would be there in 2023,'' Cook said. ''They said they could not guarantee that.''