Waste Management faces state investigation after strike

Waste Management faces a formal state investigation into its performance during an eight-day garbage strike that ended Thursday, including reports that trash collection restarted more slowly in unincorporated areas than in cities.

The company was supposed to have a back-up plan in the event its workers went on strike. Washington’s Utilities and Transportation Commission on Friday said the company took longer to resume any service during the strike than spelled out in its contingency plans.

“We seek to understand more fully your strike response and its impact on regulated customers,” said David Danner, the commission’s executive director and secretary, in a letter to the company.

The commission also said it was concerned about cities that contract with Waste Management having service restored more quickly than unincorporated areas, which the state regulates. The investigation would look into what the company was doing to remedy missed pickups, including whether customers are paying for trash collection services they never received, commission spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said.

The strike began July 25 with about 150 yard-waste and recycling drivers from Teamsters Local 117 seeking to bargain a new six-year contract. Waste Management garbage-truck drivers from another union soon joined the picket lines in support, disrupting garbage, recycling and yard-waste collection to more than 200,000 customers in Snohomish and King counties.

The drivers rejected a deal Waste Management said would raise average salaries from $58,000 to $68,000 a year in the sixth year, with another $30,000 per year in annual benefits. The strike ended with a tentative deal reached Wednesday. The following day, Local 117 members voted to accept a new contract and return to work.

The salary and benefit numbers remained as in the contract the workers had rejected. The only difference was moving up one of the wage increases by six months, company spokeswoman Robin Freedman said.

That change added an extra half million dollars collectively toward the drivers’ total compensation, Local 117 spokesman Paul Zilly said.

An end to the labor dispute didn’t immediately translate to normal service for customers who had gone without pickup.

In south Everett’s unincorporated Eastmont neighborhood, retiree Donna Kerns was upset about missing two yard-waste pickups in a row. Crews stopped by Thursday for her garbage, but not to pick up recycling or yard waste.

“I’m an avid gardener so I need my yard waste picked up every week,” Kerns said. “The point being, they’re over the strike so why aren’t they picking up the garbage?”

Kerns said her frustration only grew after calling Waste Management’s customer-service office and learning that she’d have to pay for days she didn’t receive service.

“It’s like they’re punishing the customer who’s paying their wages,” she said. “If it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have a job.”

A big reason recycling and yard-waste collection failed to start back up in many areas on Thursday is that few of the striking workers returned to work that day, according to the company.

“Only 11 returned to work out of 150,” Freedman said.

Waste Management was planning extensive Saturday recovery routes. During the strike, substitute drivers focused on trash collections for commercial customers, particularly hospitals, day care facilities and restaurants.

The company promised to collect additional trash for free on the next collection day.

Trash service in Snohomish County is divided into a patchwork of municipal boundaries and state-regulated service areas. Other areas served by Waste Management are Arlington, Brier, Granite Falls, Lynnwood east of Highway 99, more than half of Mukilteo, Stanwood and much of unincorporated Snohomish County. The company serves parts of Marysville and Lake Stevens annexed in recent years, as well as a sliver of Edmonds near Lake Ballinger.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Waste Management planned to have drivers today focus on collecting garbage, yard waste and recycling from residential routes missed Wednesday. The company is asking customers to keep carts out until 6 p.m. in these areas: north Snohomish County amd Brier (garbage and yard waste will be picked up on those routes; recycling only for those who missed their pickup this past week); Marysville (recycling and yard waste only); Bothell, Mill Creek and Mountlake Terrace (all three are picked up.)

For updates: www.wmnorthwest.com.

To file a complaint with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, call 888-333-WUTC (9882) or visit www.utc.wa.gov.

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