FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Sanitation workers on strike at Republic Services in Marshfield, Mass., extended their picket line to the company’s operations in Cumming early Friday, Nov. 1, creating ripples through parts of Forsyth County and North Fulton.
About 30 Republic Services workers in Cumming, who are members of Teamsters Local 728, refused to cross the picket line.
The most immediate effects were felt in Alpharetta, where the city contracts with Republic to service over 24,000 households.
Trash pickup for businesses and construction sites in Milton, Johns Creek, Roswell, Canton and Woodstock were affected as well.
“Republic is experiencing limited service disruptions in the North Fulton area only — the majority of the greater Atlanta area’s operations are running,” the company said in a statement. “We will pick up any missed collections and resume normal service in the North Fulton area as quickly as possible.”
Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said the company expects service delays only to the 3,200 local customers who receive collection on Fridays. Those households whose waste was not picked up on Friday would be collected the following day, he said.
Also, glass recycling and yard waste collections for those Friday customers would be delayed a full week, Drinkard said.
Forsyth County residents outside the City of Cumming are provided free choice among a number of haulers servicing the area. The City of Cumming contracts with Red Oak Sanitation for collection service for its residents.
In Johns Creek, the city does not manage, control or regulate trash collection services.
“Sanitation services would likely be on an HOA, neighborhood or individual to manage or coordinate,” said Johns Creek Communications Director Bob Mullen. “I believe there are about a half dozen or more other waste management companies that provide service to the Johns Creek area.”
The City of Roswell has a contract with Advanced Disposal for curbside recycling and yard waste disposal, while city employees pick up household garbage. The strike is not expected to affect Roswell citizens, according to Roswell Community Relations Manager Julie Brechbill.
The City of Milton does not have an exclusive contract with a waste provider, but Republic is one of nine companies permitted for residential waste hauling and one of seven providers available to businesses.
Ben Speight, organizing director with Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta, said the strike was called to protest Republic’s attempts to cut workers’ pay, to show solidarity with workers across the country where Republic allegedly committed unfair labor practices, and to bring attention to “systemic safety issues.”
In 2017, there were 71 work-related fatalities in the waste management occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There was also a work-related injury rate of 4.2 cases per 100 full-time workers, making it among the most dangerous civilian occupations.
“We hope people understand the workers do not want to have this happen,” Speight said. “They’re doing this only to defend their livelihood and are eager to get back to prioritizing the customers as soon as possible.”
The union action, he said, crosses racial and ethnic lines.
“These workers are overwhelmingly African American and Latino,” Speight said. “In the Cumming group, it’s about a third black, a third brown and a third white, and these workers have overcome those superficial differences because they have more in common than they do different. They’re just trying to make sure we don’t go backwards.”
Republic took a different view.
“We respect our employees and their right to union representation, but it is unfortunate that this small faction within the Teamsters organization is trying to disrupt local customers as a tool to pressure Republic in another state,” the company said in a statement issued Friday. “We also respect the rights of employees to engage in the collective bargaining process, and we continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve a fair and competitive labor contract.”
Staff writers Carson Cook, Joe Parker, Julia Grochowski and Ray Appen contributed to this report.