Strike deadline is tonight for garbage haulers in Snohomish County

If garbage haulers in Snohomish County decide to strike tonight, company officials say garbage bins still will be emptied.

Just when that would happen isn’t clear.

Officials from Waste Management Northwest and Allied Waste are trying to settle a contract dispute with the union that represents hundreds of garbage haulers in Snohomish and King counties.

A strike could be called as soon as midnight, when contracts covering garbage haulers expire. Together, the two companies pick up most of the trash in communities across Snohomish County — a total of 100,000 homes and businesses.

Officials from both companies said they’re making plans to collect garbage if workers strike. Both plan to bring in employees from elsewhere in the state — or farther afield, if necessary.

“There are Waste Management employees from across the country who are available to help in situations such as natural disasters and labor interruptions,” said Jackie Lang, a spokeswoman for the company, headquartered in Houston.

A spokesman for the union garbage haulers said it is unlikely that any replacement workers will be able to serve the community smoothly.

“There will obviously be some disruptions in service,” said Michael Gonzales, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 174, the union representing garbage haulers.

Lang acknowledged that there may be an impact on service for Waste Management customers. The company plans to post information on its Web site, www.wmnorthwest.com, Thursday beginning at 6 a.m. She said customers should check there first.

Allied Waste plans to bring in employees from elsewhere, said spokeswoman Peg Mulloy. She wouldn’t answer questions about where they would be arriving from. Allied Waste is part of Republic Services, which is headquartered in Phoenix.

“At this time, we prefer not to discuss the details of our backup staffing,” she said. “We are focusing on negotiations.”

She did provide a prepared statement that said, in part, that the company plans to bring in workers to “minimize interruption of service.” Officials also plan to prioritize garbage collection at hospitals and health clinics, where the removal of trash is critical to public health and safety.

As part of its long-term contingency plan, Waste Management is already looking for new drivers. The company bought ads in several Northwest newspapers, including The Herald.

“So far, the response has been very strong,” Lang said.

Gonzales, the union spokesman, called the ads “a cheap bargaining trick that doesn’t help anything.”

Running the ads “inflames our membership and the community. It doesn’t help at the bargaining table,” he said.

Waste Management serves customers in parts of unincorporated Snohomish County as well as Arlington, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Brier, Mukilteo and parts of south Everett.

Allied Waste covers Snohomish, Lake Stevens, Sultan, Index, Gold Bar, and parts of Lynnwood, Edmonds, Monroe and Woodway.

Another company, Rubatino, serves central and northern Everett and isn’t involved with the strike.

Union officials say workers are upset about two issues: rising health care premiums and possible cuts in wages to help fund retirement benefits.

Waste Management officials say the counties and cities they serve are experiencing deep budget cuts, which in turn affects how much the company can pay.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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