Trash, gripes pile up as strike enters second week

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Emile Major has been waiting a week for workers to empty the trash bins outside his home on 56th Avenue W., near the Evergreen Playfield Complex.

The 70-year-old’s curb is a front line, of sorts, for more than 200,000 garbage customers in Snohomish and King counties coping with an ongoing garbage strike.

When Waste Management drivers took to the picket lines last week, Major’s house, like others in Mountlake Terrace, was among the first collections missed. If the company is unable to scramble workers to his route today, he’ll be heading into a second week without service.

“I’m just going to start putting it out there and leaving it there until they come to pick it up,” said Major, who’s also considering refusing to pay his trash bills. “I’m not going to haul them back and forth. You think I’m going to put my stuff out every day? To hell with that.”

City workers disrupted his plan last week when they moved his bins and others on the street back from the curb for an annual parade. He said he moved them right back, even though his city and others only allow people to have their bins out on collection days.

On Tuesday, few signs of progress emerged in the week-old strike, despite a weekend attempt by the union for garbage and recycling drivers to jumpstart talks through a mediator.

The strike began on the morning of July 25, when about 150 drivers from that union, Teamsters Local 117, took to the picket lines over the failure to bargain a new six-year contract with Waste Management. Their old contract expired May 31. They were soon joined on the picket lines by about 350 garbage drivers from Teamsters Local 174, who serve the same areas.

In Snohomish County, affected routes include Arlington, Granite Falls, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, parts of Marysville, Mukilteo and large parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.

Customers of Allied Waste Services and Rubatino Refuse Removal are not affected.

On Tuesday, the service disruptions extended to Skagit County, when about 35 garbage, yard-waste and recycling drivers at a Burlington facility joined the picket line. The Burlington facility also serves north Snohomish County.

Waste Management is offering Local 117 members a six-year deal it says would raise average salaries from $58,000 to $68,000 a year. Including benefits the offer is worth $98,000 a year to a driver at the end of the sixth year, the company said.

Waste Management reported bringing in substitute drivers over the weekend and planned to focus on commercial routes, including restaurants. The company also began running recruitment ads and said it was hiring candidates from a recent job fair.

On Tuesday, fill-in drivers hadn’t reached many local residential neighborhoods, including the Silver Firs east of Mill Creek. There, numerous overflowing trash and recycling bins sat outside driveways.

One father of three from the neighborhood said that so far, the accumulating diapers and other trash at his house have only been “sort of a nuisance.”

“They were supposed to come this past Friday, so it’s just been a couple of days, but it’s still kind of bothersome,” said Brad Jackson, 35.

Jackson did worry, however, about getting charged for extra bags during his next scheduled pickup. Waste Management has promised to haul away a double amount free of charge on the next collection day.

Mill Creek city staff on Tuesday were fielding new trash-related calls every hour, interim city manager Tom Gathmann said. The most common complaint wasn’t the piled trash, but people being told by Waste Management that they would have to pay for trash pickups they don’t receive.

“That made some of them very, very mad,” he said.

For residential garbage customers in Mountlake Terrace, Wednesday will be a “watershed moment,” city manager John Caulfield said. Only about a quarter of city homes received trash pickup before the strike began a week ago. If things go on much longer, the city would like to see Waste Management set up two staffed collection bins for city residents.

Mountlake Terrace and some other local cities also have the ability to levy fines against Waste Management for missed trash pickups. In unincorporated areas, the state has that authority, though it’s too early to talk about whether it’s likely to fine Waste Management, said Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said.

“The commission will look at the company’s operating record when the strike is over and take it from there,” Maxwell said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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

Updates

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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