Atlanta labor flurry: A new union, a new contract, a one-day strike

Laba Mbengue throws a tire full of water into his truck back in 2011. Mbengue, a long-time driver at Liberty Tire Recycling, helped organize the workers, who voted in October to join the Teamsters. On Friday, the workers unanimously approved the first contract negotiated with the company.

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Laba Mbengue throws a tire full of water into his truck back in 2011. Mbengue, a long-time driver at Liberty Tire Recycling, helped organize the workers, who voted in October to join the Teamsters. On Friday, the workers unanimously approved the first contract negotiated with the company.

In the past several days, union workers at one Norcross company approved a contract, workers at a second company voted to unionize and employees at an Atlanta Starbucks held a one-day strike.

A 50-worker group at Endurance Environmental Solutions voted Friday to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Another 40-worker group at Liberty Tire Recycling, which had joined the Teamsters in October, approved its first contract with the company.

Meanwhile, baristas at the Starbucks on Howell Mill Road, which voted in late spring to unionize, went on strike to protest what they say are unfair labor practices by the company. Workers said they have repeatedly asked to get negotiations underway but received no answer from the company.

The flurry of actions were the latest examples of labor activity in metro Atlanta, underscoring federal data that shows a 58% jump in the number of petitions for union membership during the past nine months.

The workers at Endurance Environmental Solutions, a group that includes drivers, technicians, ground-spotters and heavy equipment operators, was motivated mostly by safety concerns, according to Chuck Stiles, the vice president of Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta.

Workers said the company was not maintaining its equipment and that they were forced to use equipment put them in danger.

The company, which is based in Illinois, did not respond to messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requesting comment.

At Liberty Tire Recycling drivers and related workers unanimously voted to accept a contract that revised pay and policies, said Laba Mbengue, who has been a driver at the company for more than 15 years. “We have made the biggest changes that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The company, which is based in Pittsburgh and is one the nation’s largest providing such services, issued a statement Monday saying it “prides itself on maintaining a safe, respectful, and supportive workplace.”

The company said the contract that the workers endorsed was “a fair agreement ... that is good for Liberty, its employees and the customers we serve.”

The three-year deal with Liberty raises wages, adds a monthly payment for cell phone use and a $250 Christmas bonus, while increasing vacation and holiday pay and adding a paid holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said Mbengue.

“They did their best to stop us, but we are not stupid,” he said. “We know what we want. And now we live in a new era.”

Workers at the Howell Mill Road Starbucks on Sunday withheld their labor and picketed their restaurant to protest what they said was the massive coffee chain’s unwillingness to engage the union in good faith bargaining.

Since the spring, the baristas have been part of Starbucks Workers United, which says it represents 180 unionized stores.

In an emailed statement, a Starbucks spokesperson reiterated the company’s anti-union stance. However, he said the company will engage “in good faith” with the unions that do form in its stores.

Union members have cried foul at recent announcements that Starbucks would close 16 stores, several of which have unionized, arguing that it is meant to punish organizers and intimidate workers from further unionization.

However, the company says the closures are for reasons of safety, that the locations have become targets for drug use. In a talk about the shuttering of stores, CEO Howard Schultz recently said, “This is just the beginning. There are going to be many more,” according to Business Insider.

Page Smith, a barista at the Howell Mill store, agreed that drugs and violent behavior can be a problem, but said the company had previously been nonchalant about its response.

“It hasn’t gotten much attention until it can be used against the union,” she said.