An inexperienced mayor gets himself into a poorly planned out clash with a public sector union immediately after taking office, leaving the city potentially on the hook for a big financial loss if a labor board hearing does not go his way. Rhode Islander’s may be thinking the schedule change Jorge Elorza has forced on Providence Firefighters, but across the border in Fall River, Massachusetts, a similar scenario is playing out where the city’s newly elected 24 year old mayor, Jasiel Correia II, is pushing to privatize trash collection in the city.
The sanitation workers in the Fall River Department of Public works are members of Teamsters Local 251. There are 30 trash hauling positions, six of which are currently unfilled leaving 24 jobs at risk. Their previous contract expired on June 30, 2015, under the previous mayor. Despite the workers seeking primarily to maintain the status quo, with few additional demands, negotiations proceeded slowly, with a limited number of bargaining meetings, several of which were cancelled, according to Dave Robbins, contract coordinator for Local 251.
Correira campaigned on privatization and showed little patience for or understanding of the collective bargaining process and labor law.
At a rally outside Fall River City Hall on May 10, Robbins described Corriera’s method to Common Ground: "They introduced a number of proposals. We responded to those proposals. We were ready to talk about each and every one of them. They said "We're all done bargaining. We're going to privatize. We're going to wash our hands of this process.” In a nutshell, what they did is railroaded us after stalling on the contract for almost a year, they said, "We've satisfied our obligation to bargain on this issue. We can't reach agreement, that's not going to happen, so we're all done bargaining." End of story, for them. Not for us, because that's illegal. It's bad faith bargaining. They declared an impasse unlawfully. We filed charges at the labor board, and they did as well against us, and that's going to be heard at a hearing on May 23rd at the state Labor Relations Board in Boston."
Under Massachusetts state law, solid waste and recycling contracts do not have to go out for public bid, and under Fall River ordinance, the mayor can sign a trash hauling contract with a private firm without city council approval. Correira has signed a memorandum of understanding with Revere, Massachusetts based EZ Disposal Service, that aims to have a contract in place for the company to take over trash hauling as of July 1, 2016. The original deadline for signing a contract was May 1, but was pushed back to May 31, and apparently remains unresolved at press time.
Meanwhile, the workers and the city await a decision from the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board, which might send the city back to the bargaining table, or leave the city on the hook for paying both the DPW workers and EZ Disposal if they sign a contract with the company and subsequently lose the labor board case.