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Sanitation workers strike moves into new year as San Diegans' trash piles up

Posted at 5:17 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 23:21:01-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Two weeks in and sanitation workers in San Diego County remain on strike, leaving trash to pile up in front of homes and businesses.

Union members of Teamsters 542 said their message remains the same: they deserve better wages, benefits, and safety equipment.

It's not something that either party wanted. But negotiations between Republic Services and the workers union continues into the new year.

Remember when Hercules went from zero to hero? Eight-year trash collector Michael Bernardo said what is happening to them right now is the exact opposite.

"We were dealing with trash and masks are out here," Bernardo said of their essential work during the height of the pandemic. "We were praying to God that we didn't catch the COVID and bring it to our families. We were heroes in everyone's eyes and the company's eyes. But now that it's time to negotiate a fair contract, they are treating us like we are zeros."

As trash and recyclables continue to build up in San Diego homes, the City of San Diego is now stepping in. In a letter sent to Republic Services Thursday, the city said the company is failing to perform under its agreement. It said the company agreed to collect trash at least once a week and comply with the city's recycling ordinance. According to the agreement, labor unrest is not an excuse to skip services. The city is now urging the company to come up with a solution in writing by Jan. 3, 2022.

ABC 10News reached out to Republic Services for comment. They sent us this statement that reads:

"We continue to make progress with trash collection for our customers with the help of our blue crew relief drivers. While Thursday's negotiations failed to reach an agreement, we remain committed to bargaining in good faith for a contract that is fair for all."
Republic Services Media Relations

But Bernardo said the non-union Blue Crew from out of town does not cut it.

"The only people that can serve our communities as best is us," Bernardo said. "This is our city."

As the new year rolls in, Bernardo said he just wants to do what he does best.

"We are sorry for the inconvenience," he said to the community. "We would like to get back to work as soon as possible and clean the whole community like it was brand new again."

As of noon Friday, strikers broke to be with their families over the new year. They plan to be back on the lines on Sunday at 4 a.m. Negotiations with Republic Services resume on Jan. 4, 2022.