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Medical waste workers on strike for second week

WARREN — The unfair labor practice charge made against Stericycle Inc. claims the company brought in nonunion employees to work at its Warren plant — a closed shop — despite the willingness and readiness of Teamsters Local 377 members to work.

“We have contract issues, but the main thing is, why did you bring in replacement workers to replace these guys when they were still working?” said Ken Sabo, vice president of Local 377 in Youngstown. “We worked. We went to work.”

Local 377 has been working on three- to four-month contract extensions since its agreement with the suburban Chicago-based medical waste disposal company expired in October 2020.

The latest extension expired Sept. 30, the same day the 48 members of Local 377 at the Pine Avenue plant rejected 39-8 the last and best contract offer from Stericycle. On Oct. 4, Local 377 conducted a practice picket outside the facility, a move, Sabo said, that was done to get the attention of the company and public about the contract situation.

When the practice picket ended at 7 a.m. the workers put down their signs and went into the plant, where they found six to 10 replacement workers, Sabo said.

“We went to work anyway on the 30th when we voted that (the contract) down,” Sabo said. “We went to work even though they had the replacement scabs in there on that Monday.”

Sabo said Teamsters worked alongside the replacement workers until Oct. 13, when Teamsters decided to strike. The local filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 5.

Teamsters Local 377 represents approximately 24 drivers and 25 laborers at the plant. No member has crossed the picket line, Sabo said. The Warren facility processes about 40,000 pounds of medical waste per day collected from doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, blood banks and other medical facilities within about a 200-mile radius of the plant, Sabo said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has waded into worker strikes at Stericycle plants in Warren and in Toledo. He urged the company’s management to restart negotiations.

Twenty-eight members of Teamsters Local 20 at the facility in Toledo began picketing outside the plant Oct. 10. According to published reports, workers want a new contract with higher wages, but mostly are upset with costly health care insurance plan changes.

“The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the essential workers we all rely on to keep our economy going and our communities safe. The members of Teamsters Local 20 and Local 377 stepped up throughout the pandemic. They risked their own health and safety to provide critical services to their communities,” said Brown, D-Ohio. “Both sides in these negotiations care about the company and the work you do. With this shared commitment in mind, I urge you to resolve your differences and find a path forward.”

A spokeswoman for Stericycle said in email the company has been negotiating with Local 377 for nearly a year on a collective bargaining agreement. In Toledo, negotiations have been happening for six months, she said.

The latest offer to Local 377 was made on Sept. 24.

It, along with the proposal to workers in Toledo, included enhancements to wages, adjustments to vacation time and updates to company policies and other changes.

“Unfortunately, instead of engaging with us, the union decided to initiate a work stoppage in both locations during a global pandemic. To date, we have yet to hear back from either Local 20 or Local 377 on our latest offers,” she wrote.

Stericycle has bought in additional facility workers and drivers during the strike “to ensure we continue to provide our healthcare customers and our communities with essential services, especially as they deal with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the email states.

“We would like to thank Senator Sherrod Brown for his request to help bring both sides together to reach a fair agreement. We remain committed to bargaining in good faith and are hopeful that representatives from Teamsters Local 377 and Local 20 will come back to the bargaining table,” she wrote.

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