By C.J. CHIVERS
Journal Staff Writer
Nov. 23, 1998
--- 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
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
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.
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