Commercial waste collectors in Hamilton area strike, demanding end to forced overtime

Commercial waste collection workers in the Hamilton-Niagara area are on strike, protesting forced overtime and what they say is a lack of work-life balance. About 60 drivers, mechanics and technicians hired by Waste Management Canada Corp. (WM) began picketing last Thursday.The workers are members of Unifor Local 4268 and collect waste for hundreds of businesses and organizations in Hamilton and Niagara — including at least one public school board and Niagara hospitals — as well as clients in Oakville and Brantford, Ont., said WM driver Chris Blunden. Blunden, who is part of the union’s bargaining team, told CBC Hamilton negotiations with the company have “completely stopped.” WM did not respond to a request for comment.One sticking point is WM management is forcing workers to do overtime, extending most workdays to 10.5 hours, said Blunden. Workers want overtime to be voluntary.A driver gets into a Waste Management garbage truck in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 27, 2016. (The Associated Press)Currently when workers end their regular shift and can’t work overtime due to family obligations or personal reasons, they’re required to provide extensive paperwork that violates their privacy, Unifor said in a news release last week. In his union role, Blunden said he has been part of about 15 “accommodation meetings” in the last six months where workers have been asked to provide proof of why they can’t work late.Workers have been asked to provide custody agreements that indicate they’re required to pick their children up from school, Blunden said. In another case, a worker had to provide doctors’ notes verifying he has to help care for his elderly mother in the evening. “The corporation has preached work-life balance,” said Blunden. “What do you mean work-life balance when overtime is forced on us?” Niagara Health says hospitals not impactedThe workers are also demanding improved benefits and pensions. “WM is a company that feels it needs to exercise the iron fist in order to get the job done at whatever cost necessary,” said local union president Debbie Montgomery. “And it’s our members who are paying the price – whether it’s losing time with their loved ones or being afraid they will randomly face disciplinary action.” Two of WM’s clients in the region include Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) and Niagara Health.When asked about the impact of the strike on their schools, HWDSB declined to comment. Niagara Health says it uses WM at all of its hospitals but that service has not been impacted by the strike. “We do not expect any interruptions in service in the near future,” Niagara Health said in a statement.

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