A blast of snow halted trash collection across Puget Sound, creating a multiweek backlog of garbage. Now, as companies try to catch up, sanitation workers are walking off the job.
You can see garbage blocking sidewalks and street corners, piled high and bursting out of trash cans.
“It looks trashy,” said West Seattle resident Nancy Adams-Leonard, as she stood in front of the recycling pile she set out in front of her home.
“I put it out on the curb two weeks ago and it did not get picked up,” Adams-Leonard continued, “I’ve been keeping it in my house, which is a problem.”
Her street looks like many others in West Seattle, with sidewalks stacked high with recycling bins and trash bags.
In Sammamish, it is more of the same. Rob Doxsee said trash services there had been delayed since Dec. 22, 2021. Doxsee said he recently found out his trash collection would not take place until Jan. 19, at the earliest.
Multiple KIRO 7 viewers in Kent reported the same thing.
“The Wednesday before Christmas was the last time we had a pickup,” said Kent resident Harry Combs.
“We’re just dumbfounded. It’s really becoming a health hazard around the neighborhood, you see a lot of bags around the garbage cans,” said Combs, “We’re inviting rodents in, is what we’re trying to do, and it’s not safe.”
The backlog in garbage was initially created by a heavy snowstorm that prompted trash service delays and cancellations.
Companies told customers to set out double, or in some cases triple, the garbage for their subsequent service.
The increase in garbage exacerbated the backlog, often requiring crews to conduct waste removal by hand, in order to load excess bags that could not fit in the can.
In a statement to KIRO 7, Seattle Public Utilities, which contracts Waste Management, said they were aware of the issue and were working to resolve it.
“Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and its contractor, Waste Management, are aware of the missed pickups in this neighborhood. We are working quickly to address them, including sending additional crews and working extra hours to help collect waste from missed customers. As a result, many of these customers were serviced this afternoon.”
SPU said that any customers whose waste wasn’t collected on their collection day this week are asked to report their missed pickups.
But any residents serviced by Republic Services, like Doxsee in Sammamish and Combs in Kent, may be waiting a while longer.
On Wednesday, sanitation workers on strike at Republic Services in San Diego, California, extended their picket line to four Republic Services facilities in Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Kent.
Over 300 western Washington-based Teamsters Local 542 union members, who work at those four facilities, are now refusing to cross the picket line — in support of the more than 250 workers in San Diego who went on strike Dec. 17, 2021.
“We’re coming out here and we’re getting support from Seattle,” said San Diego-based Teamsters Local 542 union member and Republic Services employee Ricardo Gonzalez, as he marched outside the gates at the Bellevue facility Wednesday.
“We did a picket line, and (Local 542 union members) are honoring our line — they’re not going to work,” Gonzalez continued.
Gonzalez is a commercial operator in San Diego, California, where the strike started.
“(Western Washington) had a snowstorm and it was only a couple weeks (without trash service). We’ve been out there (picketing in San Diego) for almost a month,” Gonzales said.
“Give it a couple of days, they’re going to notice, ‘Why isn’t my trash getting picked up again?’ And they’re going to realize, ‘Oh, the locals from San Diego are out here.’ They’re going to notice our problem and they’re going to want something to get fixed right away,” Gonzales explained.
According to a news release from the union, the strike in Southern California started after contract negotiations between Teamsters Local 542 and Republic Services fell flat.
“Our members didn’t want to go on strike — they are ready and willing to clean up the city under fair conditions,” said Jaime Vasquez, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 542.
“Republic is refusing to listen to its employees’ concerns and make changes,” Vasquez continued. “Our members felt they had no choice but to take their strike line elsewhere to communicate to the company that it needs to listen to its front line workers, who do the work that earns them billions.”
Meanwhile, western Washington Republic Services customers could be caught in the crossfire until a contract agreement is made and the strike comes to an end.
When asked how long Gonzalez was expecting the strike to last, he said, “As long as it takes until we get a fair contract.”
In a statement to KIRO 7, Republic Services said they were working to mitigate the impact.
“Republic Services is experiencing a temporary work stoppage at our Seattle area locations. This is related to a labor issue in California that has nothing to do with any Washington employees. We are taking the steps necessary to minimize service disruptions, and we thank our customers for their patience and understanding as we work to resolve this temporary issue.”
At least for now, Republic Services customers like Doxsee and Combs are stuck with their growing pile of garbage for at least another week.
“We just want the garbage picked up,” said Combs. “It is frustrating, and something needs to be done. We can’t wait.”
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