Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums won a large measure of vindication over charges in some media outlets that he was missing in action in the Waste Management workers lockout dispute, when representatives of both Waste Management and Teamsters workers told a Friday afternoon City Hall press conference that a settlement of the month-long lockout would not have been possible without the mayor’s intervention.
Members of Teamsters Local 70 ratified the new contract on Saturday, ending a dispute that began two days before the July 4 holiday when Waste Management officials locked out close to 500 trash workers several days after their contract ended. The company brought in replacement workers to try to fill in, but the lockout disrupted trash pickup in several East Bay cities that have contracts with Waste Management services to pick up garbage, recycling, and yard clippings. By far the largest city affected was Oakland.
Details of the contract were not available, but both sides called them fair.
Dellums was specifically asked by the federal mediator in charge of the negotiations to participate in the meetings to help resolve the dispute.
On Thursday morning, while Teamsters and Waste Management negotiators were meeting with Dellums and Dellums’ Budget Director Dan Lindheim in a federal mediator’s office in Oakland, working out the final details in the contract settlement, the San Francisco Chronicle was publishing an article by reporter Christopher Heredia saying that “next to the uncollected garbage, the biggest stink in Oakland right now might be the dispute over how Mayor Ron Dellums has handled his first major crisis, the lockout of trash haulers.”
The Chronicle article quoted one Oakland resident who spoke favorably of Dellums’ actions, but three other individuals quoted, including an anonymous city official, were critical of what they said was the mayor’s failure to intervene quickly enough in the dispute.
Typical of the critical comments was one from Barbara Richardson of East Oakland, who said “I think it’s pitiful. I forgot he was mayor. This has gone on for four weeks. He should not have waited so long before he stepped in. All these mediators didn’t work. I’ve heard nothing from him. I look at the news every morning and I didn’t hear his name anywhere, not until the second week.”
But at Friday’s press conference announcing the proposed settlement, Waste Management Area Vice President James Devlin said he was “stunned” during the course of the contract negotiations to read articles alleging that Dellums was either totally inactive in the dispute or had been tardy in intervening.
“It could have been easy for the mayor to step back and hysterically criticize us, but he didn’t,” Devlin said. “He was one of the few people to stick his neck out to find a resolution. Mayor Dellums has a reputation of working both sides of the [political] aisle, and he personified that in the contract discussions. He worked both sides in this issue. We might not have even been talking at all without his intervention.”
That position was echoed by Chuck Mack, Teamsters Local 70 secretary-treasurer.
“A lot of people believed that when Ron Dellums decided to come back to Oakland to run for mayor,” Mack said, “he was not of a mind to get his hands dirty or to get down in the nitty-gritty and grunge of running a city.”
Mack, whose union supported Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente in last summer’s Oakland mayoral election, paused with a sheepish look on his face, and then said, “I might have said that myself.”
The reporters in the upstairs reception area at City Hall outside of the mayor’s office erupted in laughter. “But Mayor Dellums’ actions in these negotiations changed my mind completely,” Mack went on. “I don’t think we would have had this agreement without his persuasion, his coercion, his intimidation, at times, and his cajoling.”
Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who filed an injunction against Waste Management in Superior Court for the company’s failure to pick up all the trash in Oakland along its routes during the lockout, also disputed the contention that the city had failed to intervene early.
Russo said that by July 5, which he noted was two business days after the lockout began, the city’s Public Works Department was already taking the legal steps under the city’s contract with Waste Management that would make the later injunction possible, as well as possible action by Mayor Dellums to declare that Waste Management had broken its contract with Oakland. That declaration would have allowed the city to hire a replacement firm to pick up the city’s uncollected trash.
Dellums said he chose not to exercise that option because he believed a settlement between Waste Management and the Teamsters was in the best long-term interests of the city.
Dellums refused to get into a discussion about whether the Waste Management settlement also settled the discussion over his role in settling the lockout.
“I’ll allow history to determine whether my actions were appropriate,” he said.