Garbage strike continues with no new talks set

A garbage strike disrupting service in much of Snohomish and King counties dragged into its third day Friday, with little sign of when Waste Management and Teamster drivers would return to the bargaining table.

The company began putting replacement drivers on the street to prioritize customers such as hospitals, nursing homes and day cares, where accumulating waste would pose the biggest potential health hazards.

“We are (on) the streets today, and we will continue to ramp up through the weekend,” Waste Management spokeswoman Robin Freedman said.

No new talks are scheduled between the company and Teamsters Local 117, which represents about 150 striking yard-waste and recycling drivers.

The sides pointed blame at each other over the cancellation of a mediation session on Saturday.

Freedman said the union refused to return to work. Local 117 spokesman Paul Zilly said the union was prepared to take down pickets as soon as Monday, had the company agreed to come to the bargaining table and “commit to play by the rules.”

When most customers would see their next pickup remained unclear.

Customers of other trash haulers, including Allied Waste and Rubatino, are unaffected.

The strike stems from a contract dispute between Waste Management and yard-waste and recycling drivers who serve about 220,000 residential and commercial customers. Affected Snohomish County routes run through Arlington, Granite Falls, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Marysville, Mukilteo and large parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.

The sides have been in talks all year over a new six-year contract. The old agreement expired May 31.

Local 117 workers took the picket line at 10 a.m. Wednesday. By Thursday, nearly all of the 350 Waste Management garbage drivers from Teamsters Local 174 joined the strike.

On Friday, picketing workers stood by entrances to Waste Management facilities in Maltby and Marysville. Company security guards milled about in nearby parking lots, sometimes videotaping the strikers.

Some of picketing drivers spoke of the daily dangers in their line of work, including traffic accidents, potential injuries from heavy lifting and dealing with a long list of hazardous materials: hypodermic needles, diapers, broken glass, kerosene and paint thinner.

“We’re dealing with all kinds of obstacles every day,” said Rebecca Colburn of Sultan, one of the strikers in Maltby. “It’s not easy on your body and you take a beating.”

Colburn, 39, said she has worked for the company more than six years and drives 10 different routes through Snohomish County. Her work helps her and her husband support their three children who are under 18.

“We are hard-working employees,” Colburn said.

In Marysville, recycling driver Elijah MacDicken, 31, of Snohomish, said turnover in his job is high, and new hires often leave quickly. He estimated seeing at least 25 co-workers leave during his year and three months on the job.

“This is not just a physically demanding job, it’s also a mentally demanding job,” he said. “That’s something that people don’t realize.”

Still, he appreciates his typical work weeks of more than 50 hours because they help him care for his three children, ages, 2 to 7.

“Working for the family, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why we’re striking.”

The union maintains their decision to strike did not hinge on a specific demand, such as better pay, benefits or working conditions. Local 117 leaders have said that other garbage haulers, such as Waste Management competitors Allied Waste and CleanScapes, have been more willing to work through the union concerns.

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.

Waste Management is promising customers it will pick up to twice the regular amount of material after missed collection days at no additional charge. Customers will receive no refund for the days without service.

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

More information

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.

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