Providence Journal-Bulletin

Fired Sanitation Workers Will Be Returning To Their Jobs

Five of the six trash hauling workers will be rehired, the union says, but not the man who led the revolt.


Journal Staff Writer

Nov. 23, 1998

PROVIDENCE --- Two of six Hispanic laborers who were fired by the trash hauling company that removes curbside garbage in the city will be restored to their jobs today and three others will be back on the job soon, an official at the Laborers International Union of North America said last week. But the worker who led the resistance to a new pay arrangement, driver Lino Alejo, will remain out of work setting up a fight over whether he has been fired for poor performance or in retaliation for whistleblowing.

The decision marks the initial settlement of a grievance filed this month by the Laborers Local 1322 against Sanitary Services Corp., the firm under contract with the city to collect residential trash each weekday and haul it to the Central Landfill.

Manuel F. Sousa, the local's business manager, announced the decision late last week. He said he would now lead an effort to return Alejo to his truck. "The company's answer is that they are willing to put the other guys back to work, and they will begin doing it next week," Sousa said Friday. "But they don't want Lino back as an employee. If they are solid on that, I have to go to arbitration."

The dispute began late last month, when Sanitation Services Corp. and Sousa told the city's trash workers that they would now be paid 43 hours each week: 40 hours straight time and three hours time-and-a-half. No additional overtime would be granted. In announcing the pay arrangement, the company said 43 hours was more than enough to complete the city's trash removal routes each week. But a group of the employees protested, saying the new pay arrangement is illegal because routes sometimes take as many as 56 hours.

The employees say their resistance led one union steward to tell them to "go back to where (they) came from" - a charge union officials deny. The men are immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

Those who objected were fired the next morning under bitterly contested circumstances.

Alejo charges that the company and the union hid the employees' time-cards that morning, making it impossible for them to punch in and start their shifts. Contrived tardiness then became the grounds for dismissal, Alejo says.

The company and the union say the men simply did not show up on time and had to be replaced so the city's trash could be removed that day. "From our point of view, you have a group of employees who made clear they did not want to work under the terms that were negotiated between the company and the union, and then they did not show up on time for their next shifts," said William E. Smith, the lawyer for Sanitary Services Corp.

Whatever the circumstance, a few hours after the men lost their jobs, the group met with Sousa at the Laborers office at the Gateway Building. During the meeting Alejo wore a tape recorder under his sweater, and recorded what appears to be Sousa taunting the workers and telling them they may now be black-balled. Sousa says the tape was doctored, and does not represent what he said.

Alejo subsequently wrote to Laborers General President Arthur A. Coia, complaining that he had been treated badly by the union. He asked for Coia's help. The Laborers International inspector-general's office did not respond to a request for comment, although Sousa confirmed last week that the union's national office is involved in the case.

But he also said he was handling the matter himself through regular talks with the company, including one last Thursday during which he said the latest deal was brokered. Sousa said the first two workers who will be offered their jobs are Moise Gonzalez, 29, and Armando Alvarez, 38, both of Providence. He said they were selected based on seniority.

"These two are going back Monday with all of their seniority, all of their rights," he said. "The other guys will be back, I would say, within a couple of weeks. "I have notified the company that the union does not expect any reprisals on the part of the company because of this action," he said. "These individuals are good employees and they work hard."

The three employees awaiting reemployment are Maynor Enriquez, 25, Sergio Alvarez, 29 and Julio Alvarez, 36, also of Providence.

Sousa said he did not know whether the men will be given back pay for the time out, a request the company is prepared to reject. "We have not represented to the union that that is something we are willing to do," Smith said.

Although on the surface the settlement appears to favor the company -the 43-hour pay arrangement will stand and the workers have to accept it to return to their jobs - Sousa said the deal is good for the laborers. For instance, he said the company has also agreed to add a truck to the city's routes for 26 weeks a year. This means more jobs and less time on the routes, he said. Further, he said the men are now guaranteed $75 each week in yard waste removal and that he negotiated pay raises for the men worth 25 cents an hour, effective in January. The raise is especially good because the average wage on the trucks is $12 per hour, substantially more than in other communities, Sousa said. As for Alejo's dismissal, he said Alejo has been denied re employment because of a track record of poor performance, not because he resisted the company's new pay offer, wore a recording device in the union meeting, or complained to the union's national leadership.

To support his charge, Sousa released copies of formal company warnings he said were issued to Alejo in September and October, which included allegations that Alejo had been found sleeping on his route, had not conducted pre- and post trip inspections of his truck, and had damaged company equipment through carelessness.

None of the warnings bore Alejo's signature; that line was left blank on each. Sousa also said Alejo moved too slow on the routes, and that work by the drivers who replaced him proves it.

"The guys who are doing his route, last week they did it in 37 hours, " Sousa said. "This week they'll do it in 40." Nonetheless, he said the union would represent Alejo and try to regain his job through arbitration.

Smith said Sanitary Services Corp. was unwilling to talk about individual employees with the media. But Sousa released a Nov. 7 letter from local operations manager Daniel J. Capuano that indicated the company' s stance.

"Due to the track record Lino Alejo has created for himself with this company, Sanitary Services will absolutely not grant Mr. Alejo re-employment," the letter says. Alejo said he was surprised to hear of the company's letter. "I never had a warning at that company, not even one at all," he said. "He made up the warnings. That's a lie. He's trying to cover himself and trying to make himself look good."

He also said the warnings could help his case. "That's why they tried to fire me, because I let everybody know what the company and the union have been doing," he said.

Alejo also said that at the most recent meeting between the union and the workers, held last Friday, it was Sousa who brandished a tape recorder. "He's scared now," Alejo said. "He's a using a tape recorder now because he's worried. But it's too late. Whatever he said before, I have on tape."

The dispute between the laborers and their union suffered another chill last week when a receptionist at the Laborers office filed a police complaint saying she had received a threatening call. The caller threatened to sever Sousa's genitals, the receptionist told police. It was not clear last week if the call was related to the labor dispute, although Sousa said he thought it might be.

Copyright © 1998 The Providence Journal Company

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