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Saturday, July 28, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 p.m. Information in this article, originally published July 25, 2012, was corrected July 27, 2012. A previous version of this story incorrectly compared the wages of recycling and yard-waste drivers with garbage drivers.
Waste Management drivers strike; trash, recycling collection halted
By Nancy Bartley and Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporters
Garbage, recycling and yard-waste pickup for most of Waste Management's 220,000 customers in King and South Snohomish counties stopped Wednesday when Teamsters went on strike against the region's largest refuse service over wage and benefits issues.
Teamsters Local 117, which represents 153 recycling-route drivers, walked off the job at 10 a.m. and was joined by Local 174, the garbage-truck drivers, who signed a contract with Waste Management a few months ago.
The large green trucks began to roll into the South Seattle Waste Management yard by midmorning as drivers stopped work, dropped off their vehicles and picked up picket signs.
A nonunion driver with a truck full of medical waste got into an altercation with strikers who blocked the entrance to the facility at 8111 First Ave. S. and pushed against the truck in an attempt to keep it out.
"Don't let him in! Don't let him in!" Teamsters spokeswoman Tracey Thompson called. But the strikers were no match for the truck and the driver rolled ahead, pushing strikers out of the way.
The walkout means customers from Algona to Woodinville in King County and from Snohomish to Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County will have no trash, yard-waste or recycling pickup. Waste Management says customers should continue to put their containers at the curb on their usual pickup day, and they won't be charged for extra garbage.
Under its contract with Seattle, Waste Management can face penalties if the strike drags on. The city can deduct $4,500 a day for failing to make scheduled collections, with fines potentially going up to $250,000 a day if the strike continues more than a week.
"It begins to get really expensive to continue these things, which is why they don't generally drag on that long," Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan said.
The union said drivers have been working without a contract since May 31, and voted unanimously June 2 to authorize a strike over what the union said were company violations of federal labor laws in a dispute largely over health and safety issues.
But to drivers on the picket line, the dispute is more about the disparity in wages between recycling drivers, whose starting salaries are about $17 an hour, and garbage-truck-drivers, whose wages are about $2.50-an-hour higher.
Robin Freedman, spokeswoman for Waste Management, said no new bargaining sessions are planned and the company has no plans to replace the striking drivers with nonunion workers.
"We do have a contingency plan, whether it's for an earthquake, flood or labor disruption. At this point we have no intention of locking out our employees. We're hoping they will return to work."
Seattle officials expect both sides "to continue to engage in good-faith negotiations toward a speedy and successful outcome," Ryan said.
During the two months leading up to the strike, King County Executive Dow Constantine "urged both sides to get to the bargaining table to bargain in good faith and get a fair and equitable resolution to this issue," said county spokesman Doug Williams. "His message hasn't wavered on that point."
Kirkland, which contracts with Waste Management, said in a release the company would implement a strike-contingency plan if drivers don't return to work by Thursday. Under that plan, Waste Management would seek to restore service to "critical customers," such as hospitals, nursing homes and day-care centers.
Freedman said company officials were perplexed that drivers went on strike, "especially considering the fair and generous last, best and final package" offered four weeks ago. Freedman said union leaders had chosen "political gamesmanship" over allowing members to vote on the contract offer.
She said drivers were offered a $98,000 wage-and-benefit package, which included a 4 percent annual wage increase effective the second year of the six-year contract.
Thompson said Waste Management forced the dispute by refusing to bargain in good faith and walking away from the bargaining table.
In a written statement, she said the National Labor Relations Board is investigating allegations that the company bargained in bad faith, dealt directly with workers, threatened to retaliate against them and unilaterally changed working conditions.
Two other haulers, Republic Services and CleanScapes, said their operations have not been affected by the strike. Republic, also known as Allied Waste, said it signed a five-year contract with Teamster drivers last month.
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