Thousands affected by Waste Management workers' strike in King, Snohomish counties

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As many as 200,000 homes in King and south Snohomish counties were already feeling the effects Wednesday after recycle and yard waste drivers for Waste Management went on strike that morning.

The pickets went up at 10 a.m., and workers said they'd stay 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the strike is settled.

Customers affected are in King and Snohomish counties. See specific areas here.

A total of 153 drivers are on strike, and Teamsters Local Union 117 said nearly all the company's garbage haulers -- 350 drivers -- are honoring the picket lines outside Waste Management's offices. 

Some took to picket lines Tuesday morning at Waste Management's Seattle plant. Picketers also appeared at plants in Marysville and Woodinville, and at transfer stations in Auburn, Seattle and Woodinville.

A vote for the strike was unanimous.

The company said it hopes workers will be back on the job Thursday, so people should put their bins out like normal. Customers whose bins weren't picked up Wednesday won't be charged for extra yard waste and recycling next week.

Union says WM violated workers' rights

"They have knowingly refused to bargain with this union, they have knowingly violated the legal rights of their workers," said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer for the union.

Earlier in the day, in a news release, Thompson cited an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board, which is looking into alleged violations by Waste Management, including "bad-faith bargaining, coercing and direct dealing with its employees, threatening to retaliate against workers, and unilaterally changing working conditions."

"Waste Management has forced this labor dispute through its blatant disregard of U.S. law," Thompson stated in the release. "Now they are on the verge of provoking a public health crisis. Waste Management needs to realize that this community will not sit idly by while they put our families at risk.  We call on Waste Management to return to the bargaining table immediately and bargain a fair contract in good faith that recognizes the health and safety hazards its drivers face on the job."

Waste Management: Deal that was offered is fair

But Waste Management said that's not so. The two sides have bargained since last January, and six weeks ago, the company offered what it said was its last, best offer: A six-year deal with a signing bonus the first year and annual increases of 4 percent each year after that. That would raise wages an average of $10,000, from $58,000 to $68,000 per year by the end of the contract.

The signing bonus was pulled by Waste Management after the union refused to vote on it six weeks ago, but the proposed wage increases stand.

"Do you think that's generous? I think that's more than generous," said Robin Freedman with Waste Management. "I see very few people (who) are getting 4 percent raises."

The company said it has no plans at the moment to lock out its workers or use replacement drivers.

Recycle/yard waste drivers paid differently than garbage haulers

Talk to those on the picket lines, though, and you'll find their big issue is that all drivers aren't paid equally. Andy Young, for example, makes $21.32 per hour for picking up recycled materials, which is about $8 less than a garbage hauler.

"There's a different style of truck that we use, but for the most part, it's the same work," Young said.

Brent Barrett, meanwhile, makes a little more picking up yard waste -- $24.22 per hour -- but that's still about $3.50 less than a garbage driver's hourly wage.

"I do not believe that's fair," Barrett said. "We drive the same trucks. We're driving them on the same roads."

Waste Management's answer is that the offer on the table, which they still want the Teamsters to vote on, is generous, "no matter what kind of driver you are," Freedman said.

Side by side: How recycling, trash contracts compare

KIRO 7 looked at the final offer for recycle workers, and the total compensation package hits $98,000 in the final year on the contract. The last contract for trash workers gave them more than $109,000.

That isn't just take-home pay; it's a total compensation package that includes wages, health benefits, the pension plan and other benefits.

The union for the trash haulers said  that generally, employees work their way up through recycling and yard waste, and that on average, trash haulers are more experienced.

Waste Management issued this statement:

After more than six months of contract negotiations and sixteen comprehensive proposals, Waste Management was disappointed that Teamsters Local 117 decided to strike today.

"We are perplexed that the Union chose to go out on strike and negatively impact the public in this way. This was simply unnecessary, especially considering the fair and generous last, best and final package offered to Teamsters Local 117 over four weeks ago," said Robin Freedman of Waste Management. "Once again the Union leadership has chosen political gamesmanship rather than allowing their members to vote on the offer."  

The company is now shifting their focus to customer communications and implementing their contingency plan.  Collection Schedules  Not knowing the length of this strike, WM encourages customers to place their materials at the curb according to their regular collection schedule.

If materials are not collected by the end of the day, bring them in and WM will collect a double load on your next collection day.

Please check the WM website for daily collection information at www.wmnorthwest.com.  

Waste Management is the leading provider of comprehensive recycling and environmental services in the Pacific Northwest and North America. WM provides innovative sustainability solutions for residential, commercial, industrial and municipal customers. The Company uses waste that cannot be recycled to generate renewable energy, powering 7,500 homes in the Pacific Northwest.

Teamsters Union 117 issued this statement:

Waste Management forced recycle and yard waste drivers who service King and Snohomish counties to strike this morning by violating federal labor law.  Picket lines were established at several Waste Management facilities at 10 A.M. this morning.

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating a number of violations committed by the company, including bad-faith bargaining, coercing and direct dealing with its employees, threatening to retaliate against workers, and unilaterally changing working conditions.

“Waste Management has forced this labor dispute through its blatant disregard of U.S. law,” said Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer, Tracey A. Thompson. “Now they are on the verge of provoking a public health crisis. Waste Management needs to realize that this community will not sit idly by while they put our families at risk.  We call on Waste Management to return to the bargaining table immediately and bargain a fair contract in good faith that recognizes the health and safety hazards its drivers face on the job.”

153 recycle and yard waste drivers employed by Waste Management have been working without a contract since May 31, 2012. On June 2, the drivers unanimously voted to authorize a strike after Waste Management committed a series of labor law violations.  

Sanitation workers perform one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, putting their lives on the line every day to protect the public health. Since 2005, four Local 117 members in the industry have been killed on the job. 

“With the health and safety hazards we face every day, we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  The last thing we want is a strike, but Waste Management is using illegal bullying tactics to threaten our livelihood,” said Brent Barrett, a Waste Management yard waste driver who works out of the company’s Seattle facility.

Residents and businesses should call 1-800-230-7418 to report recycle, yard waste, and garbage service disruptions and visit www.seattletrashwatch.org for updates and information.