In Madrid, street cleaners vote to end strike

Story highlights

  • Street cleaners are to return to work late Sunday, a union official says
  • Deal means no layoffs, but there will be furloughs
  • Pressure was building on the mayor from hotel and shop owners
Street cleaners voted on Sunday afternoon to end a strike that has left trash piling up for two weeks in the Spanish capital, after union and management representatives reached a deal in marathon overnight negotiations, a union leader said.
The agreement came after City Hall stepped in on Saturday to start ensuring minimum trash pickup services by using federal -- not municipal -- workers.
Pressure has been building on Mayor Ana Botella from hotel and shop owners, who have been outspoken in saying the strike is hurting the city's image and their businesses, and from neighborhood associations which complain that trash and broken glass are littering the streets.
Street cleaners were to return to work late Sunday, said Francisco Aguilar, a local leader of the CGT union, confirming Spanish media reports about the end of the strike. A spokesman for management could not immediately be reached.
About 6,000 street and parks cleaners went on strike on November 5, after three large private services companies that share the city concession for street cleaning announced 1,134 job cuts -- an 18% reduction of the workforce -- and threatened salary reductions for those remaining.
In the predawn deal on Sunday, management agreed not to lay off anyone; but in exchange, the workers will be subject to 1.5-month furloughs each year through 2017, equivalent to about a 9% salary reduction, Aguilar said.
"Under the circumstances, we achieved something good," Aguilar said of the unions' insistence on saving jobs in the economic crisis in Spain, which has a 25.9% jobless rate and 5.9 million people out of work. The youth jobless rate is 54%.
During the strike, about the only saving grace for the Spanish capital has been that workers who pick up garbage from homes and restaurants were not on strike.
But the street cleaners were very much on strike, so trash receptacles on the street were overflowing, especially the large bins for glass and paper recycling. And the autumn leaves weren't being swept up.
Peruvian businessman Jack Falcon was visiting the emblematic Plaza Mayor last week and told CNN, "It's impossible not to notice it. It's very sad. The city looks absolutely dirty."
His wife, Raquel, added, "It looks horrible ... everywhere you walk."
Botella, the mayor, initially said that since these services are outsourced, it was up to those companies and the workers' unions to resolve the issue.
Minimum services were stipulated: that 40% of the normal cleanup would occur on the streets, and 25% in the parks.
But those services were not honored, and the few cleaning crews that were working -- in the city's main tourist areas -- did so under police protection.
That changed suddenly on Saturday, when workers whose company is a unit of the Agriculture Ministry began some of the cleanup, with no apparent union opposition, just as the talks between unions and management moved ahead quickly on the weekend.
The strike was another example of how hard it is for Spain to get out of its long economic crisis. Many Spanish cities, like Madrid, are in debt and have outsourced services, trying to cut costs. And the companies with the concessions say that, for efficiency's sake, they need to hold down labor costs.