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Garbage piles up as Republic Services sanitation workers' strike continues

If you live in Chula Vista and Clairemont Mesa, you may have noticed your trash is piling up. That's because hundreds of sanitation workers with Republic Services are on strike. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado spoke with workers on the picket lines.

Residents and businesses in Chula Vista and San Diego's Clairmont Mesa neighborhood are seeing their garbage go uncollected as more than 200 sanitation workers employed by Republic Services continue their strike.

Dozens picketed outside Republic Services offices in Chula Vista on Tuesday, chanting, "What do we want? Contracts!

This is one of five locations across the county where workers have picketed since contract negotiations between their union, Teamsters Local 542, and the company broke down Dec. 17. They’ve been working without a contract since November.

Kitty Alvarado / KPBS
Sanitation workers picket outside Republic Services offices in Chula Vista, Dec. 21, 2021.

"At some point, you kick the dog too many times, it’s going to turn around and bite you," said Manny Puma, a driver with Republic who was among the workers picketing in Chula Vista.

Residents have been able to count on Republic workers, especially during the pandemic, but the company has taken them for granted, he said.

"We weren't able to sit home and not go to the office, we were up there ground zero, picking up garbage every single day," Puma said.

Republic is the second-largest waste management company in the country. Just days ago the company reached an agreement with workers in Orange County who were on strike for more than a week. The union said the company’s CEO earns 154 times the pay of their average employee.


Puma said being on strike is not easy, especially the week of Christmas.

"We know what the sacrifice is and we’re willing to do it and we’ll be here 24 hours a day and we’ve been here 24 hours a day just to make our stance," he said.

Meanwhile, Walid Ielaya, the owner of Bambinos Pizza in Chula Vista, is dealing with the fallout.

"It’s nasty, it’s disgusting," he said. He's been at the same location for five years and has never seen trash overflowing like it is now.

"They usually pick it up I think every day, I’ve never seen it full like that," Ielaya said.

Republic sent a statement in response to questions from KPBS.

"Republic respects the rights of our employees to engage in the collective bargaining process, and we continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve a fair and competitive labor contract," the statement said. "We are working hard to resume normal service as quickly as possible, and we thank our customers for their patience and understanding."

Most of the striking workers live and work in Chula Vista and feel bad for those who depend on them, Puma said.

"We apologize for that and soon as we get back to work and we want to get back to work as soon as possible, we’re going to clean this whole city up and we’re ready to go," he said.

Hundreds of sanitation workers are on strike in San Diego county, leaving garbage piling up in Chula Vista and Clairemont Mesa. Contract negotiations between sanitation company Republic Services and the local union broke down on December 17. It is Christmas week and–no surprise–traffic is up at the airport. But the threat of the omicron variant looms over California and the entire country. Plus, a report on how veterans are using poetry and prose to work through the stress of war.