By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
Garbage truck drivers joined in the strike against Waste Management on Thursday in support of the drivers who haul yard waste and recycling.
That means uncertainty about when tens of thousands of Waste Management customers in Snohomish County and elsewhere can expect their next garbage, yard waste or recycling pickup. The dispute was months in the making, but the final breakdown coincided with warm, summer weather hitting the area.
There’s no sign when it will let up.
On Thursday, both sides suggested they might return to negotiations on Saturday, though dueling statements made it clear that the possibility is iffy at best.
Teamsters Local 117, which represents yard waste and recycling drivers, accused Waste Management of sabotaging the bargaining process by placing conditions on the resumption of negotiations.
“We’re supposed to trust them now and take down the pickets?” Local 117 secretary-treasurer Tracey Thompson said in a prepared statement. “Before relinquishing our rights, we need a full-fledged commitment from the company to bargain in good faith.”
Waste Management said it was prepared to resume talks if union members take down picket lines. The company accused union leadership of refusing to allow drivers to return to work or to guarantee against further service disruptions.
Waste Management serves about 220,000 residential and commercial customers in Snohomish and King counties.
The labor dispute involves more than 150 Puget Sound-area yard-waste and recycling drivers with Teamsters Local 117. About 20 of them are based in Marysville and another 79 at a Maltby-area facility, where striking workers held signs on Thursday.
Affected Snohomish County routes run through Arlington, Granite Falls, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Marysville, Mukilteo and large parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.
Local 117 members and Waste Management have been in talks all year over a new six-year contract. Those negotiations broke down in June. The union wants higher pay to match that of garbage truck drivers, who reportedly earn $9 more per hour than recycling drivers.
Workers from Local 117 left for the picket lines Wednesday morning. About 350 garbage drivers with Teamsters Local 174 joined them Thursday. The garbage drivers’ contract allows them to honor the picket lines of another union, and all but one of their members decided to join in, Local 174 spokesman Michael Gonzales said.
Gonzales and Local 117 spokesman Paul Zilly said what’s happening now is similar to the breakdown in labor talks two years ago between Waste Management and Local 174 garbage drivers.
The union has complained to the National Labor Relations Board about alleged violations by Waste Management, including bad-faith bargaining, coercion of employees and threats of retaliation, charges the company says are baseless.
Teamsters Local 117 says its workers should be fairly compensated for doing dangerous work that sometimes has resulted in on-the-job deaths.
Waste Management said its final offer to the drivers included an average wage and benefit increase of more than 4 percent per year. The company says that would give the average recycling driver more than $98,000 in compensation in the final year of the new contract. That would include health benefits of $20,000 per year and an annual pension contribution of more than $10,000 per year. Neither the company nor the union were more specific on the details about the wages.
During the strike, Waste Management encourages customers to place their bins at the curb according to normal collection schedules. If materials are not collected by the end of the day, the company said it will collect a double load on the next collection day.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waste Management encourages people to check for service updates at www.wmnorthwest.com or call 800-592-9995. Teamsters Local 117 says people and businesses can go to www.seattletrashwatch.org for updates and call 800-230-7418 to report yard waste, recycling or garbage service disruptions.