Firings Spark Protest

Busloads of women attending a Teamsters convention in Las Vegas dropped by City Hall on Thursday to join a protest against Republic Services for firing 29 Hispanics who were allegedly attempting to unionize recycling center workers.

The firings are a blatant attempt to intimidate workers who were leading the organizing efforts, Teamsters Local 631 Secretary-Treasurer John Phillipenas said. The fired workers were all Hispanic and long-standing employees, some of them having worked at Republic for 10 years, he said.

Phillipenas said the workers faced extremely hot, dusty and dirty conditions without adequate ventilation and cooling fans. The unacceptable working conditions were just one of the primary issues that prompted workers to seek union representation, he said.

Bob Coyle, president of Republic Services, told the Review-Journal in August that the company conducted a full audit of immigration law compliance and found about 30 personnel files that required further review of Form I-9, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employment eligibility form.

Audits were done regardless of race or national origin of the employees and regardless of whether they were union or nonunion, he said.

Only one person produced proper documentation confirming the ability to work in the United States legally and that employee was immediately returned to work, Coyle said. The others were given time to provide documentation and were unable to do so.

Rosalina Martinez, one of the fired workers, said she's a legal U.S.-born citizen and single mother of five children.

"I'm the only responsible person for my family support and I feed my family," Martinez said through a translator. "I've got my legal documents. Republic Services fired me because I was asking for union representation from Teamsters. The company also fired many of my co-workers from their jobs for the same thing. I ask for justice to me and all my co-workers."

The rally was intended to sway public opinion toward union strategies and to discredit Republic Services, company spokeswoman Michele Voelkening said Thursday. Teamsters officials continue to provide misleading and inaccurate information regarding issues at the recycling center, she said.

"Republic Services has had a long and positive relationship with the Teamsters union, including the harmonious and successful renegotiation of its current five-year contract," Voelkening said in a statement. "However, we cannot sit back idly while certain union representatives wantonly distort the facts to create a public perception of wrongdoing."

Republic Services was not aware of any organizing efforts at the recycling center in March and didn't learn of any such effort until August, she said.

The company has more than 1,100 workers who are members of the Teamsters union and will continue to abide by the law in all of its personnel matters, including the rights of workers to organize, she added.

Kevin Hardison, president of Teamsters Local 631, called for immediate reinstatement of all the fired Republic Services workers and for the company to negotiate union contracts. He also pointed to the 10th floor of City Hall and asked the council to "act accountable" and review the franchise agreement with the trash disposal company.

"Give it to a company that will respect its workers," he said.

Phillipenas said Republic "should be ashamed of themselves" for the firings, mostly women with children who were making $6.50 to $7.50 an hour.

"This isn't about immigration. This is all about corporate greed. This is all about exploiting workers," the union leader said to cheers from supporting unions, including Culinary Local 226, Service Employees International Union and Teamsters "sisters" from across the nation.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.