Garbage strike averted — for now
A garbage strike has been averted - at least for now. Waste Management and garbage collectors agreed at about 1 a.m. to continue negotiating and, in the meantime, to avoid a work stoppage.
Seattle Times staff reporters
A garbage strike has been averted - at least for now.
Jackie Lang, the spokeswoman for Waste Management, said early Thursday morning that the company and garbage collectors had agreed at about 1 a.m. to continue negotiating and, in the meantime, to avoid a work stoppage.
That means people should continue putting out their trash on scheduled days, because it's work as usual for garbage collectors.
Although the agreement fell short of a new labor deal, it was a positive step for the company and its workers, who earlier this week had appeared locked in a stalemate.
The two sides broke for the night soon after 1 a.m. and are scheduled to continue negotiations on Thursday afternoon.
“We are happy that talks are continuing and look forward to participating in a full day of bargaining focused on a deal,” Lang, spokesperson for Waste Management, said in a statement early Thursday morning.
The chances that the region will face a garbage strike lessened Wednesday after garbage collectors with a second company, Allied Waste, reached a tentative agreement with one company and made progress in talks with the other.
The labor contracts with both companies were set to expire at midnight Wednesday, raising fears that a strike could affect consumers across King and Snohomish counties as early as Thursday morning.
Earlier in the evening, just before 6 p.m., union garbage collectors and Allied Waste Services announced that a new labor pact had been reached.
Allied provides trash, recycling and yard-waste collection for about 123,000 homes in King and Snohomish counties. It serves Bellevue, Kent, Mercer Island, Edmonds and parts of Lynnwood, among others.
Negotiations picked up Wednesday night between the union and Waste Management after the two sides had made little progress earlier in the week.
Michael Gonzales, spokesman for Teamsters Local 174, described negotiations as "fluid" and continuing to progress.
"As long as they are still at the table trying to get a contract, it's a good sign," he said.
Lang said the two sides began meeting face-to-face again at about 9 p.m. Wednesday for the first time in three days, something she regarded as a positive development.
"We are hoping to make meaningful progress," she said, adding that the company would work with the union through the night if necessary to try and reach an agreement. Gonzales said the union, too, would continue talks as long as they were productive.
"Unless the company locks us out, we don't expect to strike," said Gonzales.
Waste Management serves more than 1 million customers in King and Snohomish counties. It employs 350 garbage haulers affiliated with Teamsters Local 174.
Just hours earlier, the picture looked grim.
Waste Management had said it was going forward with contingency plans, which included bringing in replacement workers to drive the routes of unionized trash haulers in the event of a strike. The company had advertised for replacement workers in regional newspapers Tuesday and Wednesday, including The Seattle Times.
The union workers voted Sunday to authorize a strike if the contract dispute wasn't settled by midnight Wednesday. The mediator was brought in Monday.
Local jurisdictions, including Seattle, said their contracts with Waste Management require the company to collect refuse, even if there is a strike.
In Seattle, customers with Thursday pickups should leave their trash out for two days. If it's not picked up, customers should put it out again on their next regular pickup day, said Andy Ryan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.
Waste Management provides collection services in parts of Seattle. It also serves Auburn, Bothell, Burien, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Redmond, Renton, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Mill Creek and other cities in the region.
If approved by union members, the new Allied contract would cover about 145 employees of Teamsters Locals 174 and 117. Local 117 primarily represents recycling and yard-waste haulers, while 174 mainly represents garbage collectors.
About 180 King County employees who run eight transfer stations and haul waste to the Cedar Hills Landfill near Maple Valley also are members of Local 174. Although they work under a separate contract, they could honor a strike, union officials said, raising the possibility that operations at King County's transfer stations could come to a standstill if a strike against Waste Management were called.
"We don't know what our people will do," said Doug Williams, spokesman for King County.
Snohomish County's transfer stations aren't operated by members of the Teamsters union and would not be affected by a strike, said spokesman Christopher Schwarzen.
The Waste Management replacement workers, many of whom are employees from other parts of the country, are known as the "Green Team."
They've been called into other cities with labor strikes or natural disasters, according to the company spokeswoman.
Waste Management's newspaper ads said the company was seeking applicants for drivers, technicians, transfer-station drivers and heavy-equipment operators. The ads didn't say new hires could be replacing striking union workers or that the jobs could be temporary.
Both union and Waste Management officials said Wednesday night that they remain divided over pay and the cost of health-care benefits.
The union objects to contract language that it says allows the company to reduce wages, not only to prop up the employee pension plan, but for any reason, said Gonzales, the spokesman for Local 174. "It's an unreasonable proposal that we cannot accept," he said.
Waste Management had said it was offering union workers almost $71,000 in annual salary plus pension and medical benefits for a compensation package of $104,000 per year.
But union officials say that pay is based on six hours per week of mandatory overtime and that straight-time pay would come to about $58,000 under the offer.
The union also was seeking language to limit mandatory overtime, saying it greatly increases health and safety risks to workers.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com
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