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Seattle Strike: Garbage In, No Garbage Out





(Note: The following feature first appeared at Unionosity, a new local blog devoted to coverage of labor issues; we repost it with permission.)

Negotiations between workers and the Waste Management company have reached an absolute standstill, with hundreds of trash and recycling workers striking and the sanitation giant refusing to negotiate with picketing workers.

Waste Management employees, represented by Teamsters Local 117, walked off the job last Wednesday after working without a contract since May 31. Waste Management is proposing a contract that pays recycling workers less than garbage haulers, despite the similarity between the jobs. Tellingly, Waste Management has historically taken an oppositional stance to organized labor, and seemed to be priming for a lock-out in June. After the contract expired, Waste Management held a job fair for replacement (scab) workers, and increased security at its Puget Sound headquarters. Alas, the replacement workers have not managed to keep up with the overflowing garbage and recycling heaps in Puget Sound. King 5, the local NBC-affiliate, reports:

After four days without trash pickup, several local restaurants report overflowing dumpsters and heaping trash piles.

“Having this land on our busy weekend is rough,” said Amanda Lee, kitchen manager at Beachside Café along Alki Beach. The café has a full dumpster with ten-day-old food scraps at the bottom.

“We have been told to take this to the dump, but we don’t have the ability,” she said. “we don’t know what we are going to do here soon.”

If the strike continues, garbage won’t be the only thing that accumulates for Waste Management. A letter from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn warns the company of harsh fines that will result from an ongoing strike. More from King 5:

On Friday, Mayor McGinn sent a letter to Waste Management officials warning the company of financial penalties should it fail to provide garbage and recycling pick-up as required under its contract with the city.

“Should the service interruption continue we will take the necessary steps … to protect our ratepayers and encourage restoration of service,” McGinn wrote.

Such steps could include a $4,500 per day fine against the company if it fails to provide contracted services. If the disruption continues past August 1, Waste Management could be fined $250,000 per day, the mayor’s letter said. A separate letter from the head of Seattle Public Utilities said that a combination of penalties and fees could cost Waste Management $1.25 million per day after August 1.

The union has pledged to continue picketing until the company negotiates in good faith and the company refuses to negotiate with picketing workers. They are digging in: “We are still 100 percent unified,” said Brent Barrett, a yard waste driver and union steward. “We will stay out here as long as it takes to get a fair contract.”

With garbage and fines piling up, Waste Management may well be forced to listen.

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