KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A former worker for Waste Management said he was fired as retaliation for trying to start a union to mitigate intolerable working conditions, though the company and a labor relations board say otherwise.
The two recently settled a lawsuit in Wyandotte County court.
Former Waste Management worker Anthony Lewis said his troubles with his employer started last spring and they're only now being settled.
"We looked into trying to bring in a union," Lewis said.
Lewis worked for the company as a helper to the trash truck drivers for about a year and a half. He said employees are overworked and underappreciated.
"They made the working conditions very intolerable for one, then you got these big routes that may take you 12 to 13 hours to complete and you're just one truck," Lewis said.
Lewis said, for example, his Tuesday route covered 1,700 customers.
"Some of that compost is pretty heavy. One house may have 20 bags, one house may have 50 bags. And there's compost on both sides of the street, so this one block is going to take at least about an hour," Lewis explained.
Lewis provided numerous pay stubs that show he would average anywhere from 17 to 21 hours of overtime per week. It was paid overtime, but still exhausting.
"These drivers are under these conditions, and they just quit," Lewis said.
Waste Management said overtime is common in the trash industry.
E-mails obtained by 41 Action News show that in the summer of 2017, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County fined Waste Management $67,703 for failing to pick up trash from 162 homes. Waste Management received a complaint from the UG on June 8, 2017, and the issue wasn't resolved until June 11.
The contract between the UG and Waste Management mandates that if they fail to pick up trash within 24 hours of a complaint, they will be fined $200.00 for each 24-hour period the failure continues.
Lewis said that pressure contributes to lapses in service.
"That's why they pull people from Lee's Summit, Independence, Overland Park to go to Wyandotte, but those routes they pulled us from are left on the ground," Lewis said.
Lewis and a few other workers started talking to union reps, but then noticed managers started threatening discipline and harassing them about their union activities.
"Once the company got wind of us trying to bring a union in, they brought in their HR guys," Lewis said. "You can't do that."
Lewis filed a complaint against the company to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The NLRB and Waste Management settled on the issue last summer, forcing the company to post a notice for 60 days assuring employees they wouldn't interfere in any way with union activities. The company also took back a disciplinary warning against one employee.
In September, Lewis was fired for a second seat belt violation. He believes it was retaliation.
In another complaint filed to the NLRB, Lewis mentioned examples of other employees receiving multiple written warnings but never being terminated.
"Sometimes when it's raining, I'm jumping in and out going from house to house. The rules say you have to have seatbelt on, but supervisors have said you don't need it on when you're on route, so it's definitely a gray area, Lewis said.
Waste Management's spokesperson, Paul Howe, could not go on camera with 41 Action News, but sent us a response to Lewis's claims:
"Safety is a priority at Waste Management. As such, we have adopted life critical rules, which include, for example, wearing a seat belt while operating a vehicle."
Howe went on to say, that "As a practice, Waste Management does not discuss individual personnel matters externally. However, per public record, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed the claim."
The NLRB did not find that Lewis was fired as retaliation.
Lewis said he hoped he would get more support, so he filed a lawsuit against Waste Management in January for retaliation against a whistleblower.
Last month, the parties settled in Wyandotte County court. Lewis cannot talk about how much Waste Management paid out, but says he's satisfied this has come to a resolution.