Waste Management drivers strike over stalled contract talks

Waste Management drivers strike over stalled contract talks »Play Video
SEATTLE - Seattle-area garbage workers represented by Teamsters union Local 174 parked their trucks Wednesday and picked up picket signs, calling Waste Management Inc. unfair for refusing to bargain on a new labor contract.

Pickets went up at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Waste Management facilities, union spokesman Michael Gonzales said. The strike affects waste pickup for about 1 million people in King and Snohomish counties.

"It's the last thing that we wanted to do. Because like me, I take pride in my job and taking care of my customers," said driver Langinue Shipp.

Seattle Public Utilities said as many as 18,000 residential customers who were expecting a Wednesday pickup didn't get it. (View a detailed map of the affected area)

Snohomish County officials said their county's transfer and drop-box locations will remain open as usual as they are not staffed by members of the Teamsters Union 174.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gonzales said there was a contract proposal on the table, but the company has been unwilling to negotiate the details. For example, the company offered garbage haulers a $1,000 bonus, but the union wanted to have a say in how that money would be spent. (Listen to the full interview with Mike Gonzales on KOMO NewsRadio)

"They tried to shove it down our throats," said Gonzales, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 174.

Waste Management officials said they were surprised by Wednesday's announcement of a strike.

"This simply did not have to happen," said Jackie Lang with Waste Management. "It was not necessary especially considering we had offered to meet this Friday and union did not respond." (Listen to the full interview with Jackie Lang on KOMO NewsRadio)

Lang said the company spoke with union leadership earlier this week and understood union leaders may allow drivers to vote on the latest contract proposal by Waste Management this weekend.

"You can imagine we are very disappointed at today's turn of events," she said.

Waste Management said it has activated its contingency plan and hopes to resume service as soon as possible. Earlier, the company has said it will continue service with non-union employees as it has prepared to hire new drivers from 1,600 online applications.

Lang said customers should still put out their trash on their designated day, and if it is not picked up, they should pull the trash back and they can put twice as much out the following week at no extra charge.

Recycling drivers represented by Teamsters Local 117 are honoring the strike, Gonzales said. Together, he said, about 700 workers are on strike.

Some full trucks also were stopped from dumping their contents at transfer stations by union members honoring picket lines. Teamsters members who work at King County's transfer stations have the right to honor the garbage haulers picket lines, said Doug Williams, spokesman for King County Solid Waste.

The strike was threatened when the workers' contract expired at the end of March. The company made its "best, last, final" offer April 1, but workers stayed on the job expecting negotiations to continue.

"In spite of our best efforts, Waste Management is refusing to come back to the table to bargain in good faith," Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks said in a statement. "We are taking a measured action to persuade Waste Management to correct its illegal acts and to minimize the impact on the public."

Waste Management is responsible for about half of the solid waste customers in the city of Seattle.

"The city of Seattle is not part of the negotiations between Waste Management and the Teamsters; however, we are disappointed that the two parties were not able to reach an agreement and hope they continue good-faith negotiations toward a speedy and successful outcome," said Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities.

By the last year of the contract, the average driver's annual compensation will reach $109,553, Waste Management said earlier this month, and the company will contribute more than $15,000 per year to each employee's pension fund. (Read the full proposal)

The union has said it is fighting to protect health care for sanitation workers. Teamsters also complain the company is trying to change contract language.

"People don't realize it's the fifth most dangerous job in the country," Gonzales said. "Health care is important to us, for a reason."

"I was dumping a can, and I had a rat jump out of the can and land on my face and go down my head and scratch the top of my head," said driver Brandon Plattenberg, adding he became so ill that he spent two weeks in a coma.

Union trash haulers who work for Allied Waste reached a tentative agreement with that company in March. Gonzales said those customers can expect regular garbage pickup.

In the meantime, union leaders said the strike can end if contract negotiations resume.

"If Waste Management comes back to the table and bargains in good faith, this can all be over with," Gonzales said.

"We want Waste Management to show up to the table, to negotiate bottom line," said said Langinue. "I mean, you can't put the players in the game if they don't show up." ---

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