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Friday, July 13, 2007

Teamster trash replacements seen as saviors, scabs

Thomas Blake, 39, is a Waste Management Inc. employee who normally picks up trash in his home state of Michigan. On Sunday, he left behind his girlfriend and his 10-year-old daughter and hopped on a plane to California, where he was given laminated maps of Oakland and put behind the wheel of a garbage truck. Blake endures cries of "scab" from some of the 500 local Teamsters workers locked out by Waste Management. He is shadowed on the job by guards mindful of the emotions fueled by the lockout, which is entering its 12th day.

But he also says he's getting plenty of gratitude from Oakland residents happy to see anyone taking their garbage away. "It's heavy - this route here hasn't been picked up in two weeks," Blake said Thursday after finishing his route in the Lakeshore neighborhood. "A lot of people appreciate it. A lot of customers want to give out tips, but I'm not supposed to take them."

Blake has worked for Waste Management for nine years in Michigan. He says he's making double his salary in Oakland, gets a per diem and daily bonuses, and was told he might be working for at least three weeks.

He said he's part of what Waste Management calls the "green team," workers who are available to drop everything and go out of state if needed to work unfamiliar routes because of labor disputes.

Some of the 300 replacement workers Waste Management has brought in for the lockout come from as far as Massachusetts, New York and Florida, Blake said.

Blake said he hasn't gotten lost since he started Sunday, a week after the lockout began. He has maps from the company with turn-by-turn directions for his route.

On Thursday, he arrived at Waste Management's headquarters on 98th Avenue in East Oakland at 4 a.m. and left two hours later with his maps. He took Interstate 880 and made his way to the neighborhood near Lake Merritt. He was finished with his assigned route by 1 p.m. and was to take the trash to the company's transfer station in San Leandro.

"It's really easy," Blake said of his route. While he's endured jeers from locked-out Teamsters outside the company's headquarters, Blake said he hasn't been followed or harassed while making his rounds. "No problems whatsoever," he said.

Blake may not have gotten lost Thursday, but that was apparently not the case for two other employees -- one from Fairfield, the other from Southern California -- on board another Waste Management truck. The Chronicle followed the two, trailed by two guards in an egg-spattered Kia Sedona, from Fruitvale Avenue and International Boulevard in Oakland.

The replacement workers stopped for snacks at a Quik Stop on MacArthur Boulevard before meandering through streets near Highland Hospital and then making a wrong turn near the Park Boulevard on-ramp to Interstate 580. About 45 minutes later, they ended up picking up trash along Grand Avenue and some side streets.

"I need the money," said one of the workers, who said he had been hired through a temporary-employee agency but wouldn't give his name.

In West Oakland, another crew grabbed some garbage outside the Railroad Stop Deli at the corner of 26th and Magnolia streets.

"Oh, it's been going good," said one of the employees. "But still, you got some people going against you."

He would not say if he was newly hired or perhaps a manager trying to catch up. "I'm not allowed to say that," he said, laughing.

Oakland police received scattered reports Thursday of people harassing replacement workers along routes.

On Wednesday, a locked-out machinist, 47-year-old Donald Welch of Vacaville, was hit by a guard in a car at the San Leandro transfer station, authorities said. He was treated at a hospital for knee and lower-back injuries. The incident is under investigation, Waste Management officials said.