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Originally published July 29, 2012 at 8:23 PM | Page modified July 30, 2012 at 9:34 AM

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City warns Waste Management of big fines if strike drags on

Seattle Public Utilities has told Waste Management that beginning Wednesday, it could face contractually imposed fines of up to $1.25 million a day if the strike by trash haulers keeps disrupting service. If all King and South Snohomish County cities with similar contracts impose fines, the sum could reach $3 million a day.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Garbage strike

Affected cities for residential service: Algona, Auburn, Bothell, Burien, Federal Way, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Newcastle, Redmond, Renton and parts of Seattle. Also these areas regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission: Fairwood, Federal Way / Auburn, Index, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace/Brier, Snohomish and Woodinville.

What do to: Put your collection bins out as normal. If refuse is not collected by 6 p.m., bring them back in and put them out on the next normal collection day. You won't be charged for additional waste.

Source: Waste Management

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Seattle Public Utilities has strongly warned Waste Management that it could face contractually imposed fines of up to $1.25 million a day beginning Wednesday if the strike by trash haulers keeps disrupting service.

But with about 30 other cities in King and Snohomish counties also being hit with the strike, those fines could grow as large as $3 million a day. The striking Teamsters Local 117 said other cities have similar contractual penalties as Seattle's.

SPU has 90,000 customers serviced by Waste Management. The other cities — including Kirkland and Federal Way — have an additional 130,000 customers with the company.

Last Wednesday, 153 recycling-route drivers walked off the job over what they claim are unfair labor practices over the company's failure to bargain.

They were joined by Teamsters Local 174, the garbage-truck drivers, who signed a contract with Waste Management a few months ago.

In a strongly worded letter emailed Friday afternoon, SPU said the fines would reach the $1.25 million amount if the Seattle customers had their three trash services — recycling, garbage and yard waste — affected and if a particular block had at least three containers on a single side of the street not collected.

In italics, the letter signed by Ray Hoffman, SPU director, stressed to Waste Management: "The company should know that Seattle Public Utilities will dedicate considerable resources and use all available sources of information to document these whole block misses and assess these Performance Fees."

Voice mails and emails left Sunday for Waste Management spokeswomen were not returned.

John Marchione, mayor of Redmond, said Sunday that his city has 22,000 residential customers with Waste Management and that it also had a contract with similar language imposing fines.

"We had a verbal conversation. They're very aware of the clause," said Marchione. "They said they're going to do their best that it doesn't apply."

Meanwhile, affected customers were left in a smelly lurch.

"It's a disaster," said Johanna Limberopoulos, manager of The Rusty Pelican restaurant in Wallingford, which her parents own.

The restaurant's trash bin, in the back parking lot, is beginning to overflow, she said.

"After today, there's going to be garbage all over the parking lot. What are we going to do? It's a mess."

Hoffman's letter said the 124-page contract with Waste Management has a seven-day grace period for "labor disruptions." The letter said, "We expect full service to be restored by Wednesday, August 1, if not before."

"At dawn Thursday, we'll be looking for missed connections" from Wednesday, Hoffman said.

Already, SPU has been using another portion of the contract to make daily deductions in their payments of $15,000 to $20,000 for interruption of garbage service.

Brenda Wiest, spokeswoman for Local 117, said that she hoped the threat of fines would bring Waste Management to the bargaining table.

Although the two sides talked Saturday, Waste Management has said it won't negotiate with picketing employees.

Wiest said that "we offered to take down the pickets if there was bargaining in good faith."

She said union members met Sunday afternoon to figure out picketing plans.

On Friday, replacement workers from throughout the country began collecting trash from hospitals, day cares and nursing homes.

A spokeswoman from Waste Management then said the drivers are picking up refuse from critical sites but there are no immediate plans to have the replacement workers, called the "Green Team," take over collections on residential routes.

But Sunday, with no negotiations scheduled, said Wiest, "folks are mentally assuming the employer will bring in a ton of replacement workers. That's scary for our members."

As for Seattle residents, who now have mandatory composting, and finally some hot weather, overripe bins are creating neighborhood aromas.

Said Andy Ryan, SPU spokesman, "We are talking very forcefully to both parties in this dispute, urging them to get back to the table and get this resolved."

Staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report. Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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