CARLSBAD — After more than 250 union sanitation drivers reached an agreement last week with Republic Services following a month-long strike in San Diego, Carlsbad residents continue to express concerns over the city’s contract with the embattled waste disposal company.
The Carlsbad City Council heard an update from Republic during its Jan. 25 meeting where residents brought their feelings of consternation to the forefront, including questions over the city’s impending transition to the new waste hauling service and Republic’s handling of a public labor dispute that left trash piling up at homes and businesses across the city of Chula Vista and San Diego neighborhoods for weeks.
In April 2021, the council approved a 10-year, $27 million contract with Republic for residential trash and organic waste services starting July 1, replacing Waste Management after the largest waste hauler in the country did not submit a bid (Republic is the second-largest waste removal company in the U.S.)
Regardless, the majority of the council at the time, behind former Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel and Councilwoman Teresa Acosta, supported Republic’s bid due to the company’s ties with the Teamsters, promises of no work stoppages, competitive wages and other environmental components.
“These are both great proposals,” Acosta said during the April meeting. “It’s about picking the one most closely aligned with our values. It’s a family business (EDCO) and that worries me. I like that we’ve got a public business that cares about its employees.”
And while the ink on the city’s deal with Republic has already dried, residents have continued to lobby the council to terminate its contract with Republic and sign a deal with EDCO or Waste Management.
As part of the agreement, Republic said it plans to hire about 40 drivers, along with 10 other employees to service the city of Carlsbad. The union contract between Republic and the Teamsters (a different union than in Chula Vista and San Diego) for garbage removal services in Carlsbad expires in 2023.
Additionally, the company is rolling out its public outreach campaign to help customers transition to Republic’s waste-hauling services. The company will also provide free mulch to residents as part of the contract with the city.
Mike Celaya, a Republic spokesperson, told council the strike and subsequent work stoppage in San Diego was the result of a number of extenuating factors.
“(The strike) was an anomaly,” Celaya said. “We had the perfect storm with COVID and looking for drivers to assist with that. This is a smaller business unit here in Carlsbad. We definitely have that work crew in place and ready … should anything happen.”
But some residents weren’t convinced, continuing to voice their displeasure over the city’s decision through emails, phone calls and social media. Some blamed Schumacher, Acosta and Bhat-Patel for “deceiving” the public and making “self-serving” decisions by approving a contract with Republic.
One female resident, who did not identify herself on the phone, called for an investigation into sitting and former council members for any possible improprieties or private discussions with the Teamsters or Republic about a contract prior to the council’s vote last spring.
Others noted that EDCO appeared to offer better services at a lower rate for residents. For example, EDCO submitted a bid $200,000 lower than Republic, demonstrated greater emissions reductions and did not require the city to purchase back organic waste. EDCO’s anaerobic digestion facility in Escondido converts organic waste into natural gas to power its fleet.
Another resident, Kris Wright, said the city should look into its “out” clause and re-open the bid. However, due to the city’s short timeframe to launch a state-mandated organics program under Senate Bill 1383 and no current contract violations by Republic, the city will not terminate the deal.
City Attorney Celia Brewer said the city’s contract with Republic has much more nuanced language than the company’s agreements with Chula Vista and San Diego, placing the burden on Republic to continue service regardless of any contract disputes with the Teamsters.
“The contract is complex and specific to what we can do and not do,” Brewer said. “There are timing issues and organics issues. And there are several other considerations. We can terminate for default of service, but they have an ability to ‘cure.’”