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Republic Services sued for charging customers during month-long labor strike

TEAMSTERS STRIKING 04.jpg
Matthew Bowler
Teamsters Local 542 striking in front of Republic Services in Otay Ranch over stalled contract negotiations, Dec 27, 2021.

A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed against garbage hauler Republic Services on behalf of a Carmel Valley resident who alleges the company continued to bill customers during the month-long strike while trash services were suspended in various parts of San Diego County.

Last week, the company and unionized sanitation workers reached an agreement to end the labor dispute and resume trash services in various parts of San Diego and Chula Vista, where trash piled up for weeks.

Republic Services declined to comment on the suit filed Tuesday in San Diego federal court, which states that plaintiff Qihai Chen was billed at the regular rate during the work stoppage and has not been refunded despite the lack of services.

RELATED: Sanitation workers agree to new contract with Republic Services, ending strike

Chen's attorneys also seek to represent county residents charged for services while their trash was not picked up.

According to the lawsuit, the company "intentionally charged Plaintiff's and the Class members' debit and credit cards in the full amount of recurring fees despite the interruption of services that occurred between December 2021 and January 2022."

It also states, "at the minimum, Defendants could have used the funds received to hire others to remove the trash while the strike was active."

Republic Services sued for charging customers during month-long labor strike

Sanitation services resumed Jan. 18, one day after unionized employees voted to accept the company's final offer. Union leaders said the agreement provides for wage increases and some improvements to health insurance, but fell short of what workers were seeking.

"I’m not surprised at all by that lawsuit," said Chula Vista Councilmember Jill Galvez, who represents the city's Second District. She's been fighting to get Republic Services to do right by their customers and contract with the city. She says Republic’s statements lack good will and transparency. "On Friday Republic issued a public statement saying that customers that were affected by the work stoppage should call them directly and individually negotiate a bill credit. "That’s absolutely ridiculous when we have 52,000 residential customers in Chula Vista alone," she said.

RELATED: Garbage piles up in San Diego, Chula Vista as strike negotiations continue

She said individual negotiations with customers is unacceptable and is resulting in customers are being treated unfairly. "Personally I’ve seen customers call in and get a full month’s bill credit, but now lately I’ve been seeing five dollar bill credits, ten dollar bill credits, there seems to be no rhyme or reason," she said.

Galvez says on top of that, the trash collection in the city is still inconsistent and the city has already shelled out thousands to do their work. "We intend to bill Republic around $150,000 for those efforts, but we can’t continue to supplementing their workforce." she said. "Their workforce has gotten back to work and there’s still reports of trash not being collected."

The city manager sent a four page letter to Republic asking for a meeting to discuss their failure to live up to their contract.

In the letter, obtained by KPBS, the city manager is asking Republic to do the following:

  1. Resume full performance under the Agreement.
  2. Provide its plan for ratepayer credits.
  3. Provide an Operational Plan.
  4. Pay late payment penalties for untimely Franchise Fee payments.
  5. Implement City Manager directives for improved communication with the City and the public.

"This is going to be litigious there’s no question about it, unless Republic steps up and does the right thing," said Galvez.

Republic declined a KPBS request for an interview, stating they don’t comment on pending litigation, but confirmed that customers should call them and said accounts will be handled on a case by case basis.

The meeting between Republic Services and the City of Chula Vista is scheduled for Monday.