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Originally published July 31, 2012 at 7:50 PM | Page modified July 31, 2012 at 8:14 PM

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Striking recycle drivers face replacement threat

Waste Management announces it would begin hiring permanent replacement workers to take the jobs of striking recycle drivers, while Seattle and Federal Way gear up to levy hefty fines against the company for any missed pickups.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Waste Management announced Tuesday that it would begin hiring permanent replacement workers to take the jobs of striking recycle drivers, while Seattle and Federal Way geared up to levy hefty fines against the company for any missed pickups.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn vowed to return those fines to customers in the form of lower bills, and, on Tuesday, announced that Seattle residents can dispose of garbage and yard waste at no cost at the city's two transfer stations until further notice.

"We understand that this disruption of service has real consequences for businesses and people, so we will not be charging those who bring their waste to a transfer station," McGinn said in a prepared statement.

If garbage is not picked up Wednesday, the company could be hit with up to $1.25 million in fines daily — and that's just in Seattle.

Kirkland also was preparing contingency plans to create temporary collection sites across the city if service is not restored by Wednesday.

But Waste Management's spokeswoman said the company will collect trash in the dozen King and Snohomish county cities with which it has contracts. Recycling and yard waste will not be collected yet, spokeswoman Robin Freedman said.

"We're not back to full-service delivery, but we want to do our best," she said.

Meanwhile, Burien's city manager sent a letter to Waste Management, "urging it to get back to the bargaining table immediately to resolve the impasse before the service disruption escalates from inconvenience into a threat to public health and safety."

Waste Management has been bringing in drivers, but pickups have been spotty and limited to hospitals and commercial areas since the strike began last Wednesday. This week, Waste Management began advertising for drivers to replace the 153 striking recycle drivers. Freedman said those drivers could become permanent.

"This is another page from their playbook," said Brenda Wiest, spokeswoman for Teamsters 117, which represents the striking recycle drivers. "It's more of the same unlawful bullying tactics. They do this everywhere. We anticipated this."

Wiest said striking workers have filed multiple unfair-labor-practices charges against the company. If even one of those charges is upheld, she said, the company would be barred under federal law from replacing the strikers permanently.

Teamsters Local 174, which represents the garbage-truck drivers, joined the strike in solidarity, bringing trash and recycling collection to a halt for about 220,000 customers in King and South Snohomish counties.

The replacement action would not affect garbage-truck drivers, who have a contract with the company that authorizes them to join the strike, according to Wiest and Freedman.

Weist said the last informal conversation between the company and the union occurred over the weekend. No new talks are scheduled.

"We let them know we'd be happy to take the pickets down and get back to bargaining," Wiest said. Freedman said that description was "not factual." She declined to provide further details.

Waste Management has been prioritizing collections so that items at hospitals, day-care centers and senior centers are picked up regularly. That leaves many businesses in the lurch, with mounds of trash and recycling accumulating in Dumpsters and bins in alleyways.

In Seattle, residents can drop up to six bags of trash at the city's two transfer stations for free.

Six bags of garbage normally would cost about $30 to dispose of at a transfer station, Croll said. Residents can begin bringing garbage on Wednesday, and may continue until further notice. Residents must bring a driver's license, utility bill or other evidence of a current Seattle address to avoid payment.

The city always accepts unlimited amounts of recyclable materials free of charge.

The stations, located in Wallingford and South Park, are open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The city is working on ways to compensate residents for the missed delivery, and McGinn said "every penny that we collect from Waste Management in fines will be returned to our customers as reductions to their bill."

The fines will be levied based on a formula that assigns $250 for every service missed — garbage, yard waste and recycling — on a per-block basis. Because the company plans to collect only garbage Wednesday, the fines could apply.

The city is advising residents to put their waste on the curb as they normally would, and leave it there if it's not picked up. That way, city staff can count it as a missed collection Thursday.

The city said it will be counting containers from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily until further notice.

The cities where Waste Management says trash will be collected Wednesday are: Algon, Auburn, Bothell, Federal Way, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Mill Creek, Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Snoqualmie.

In Marysville, only recycling and yard waste will be collected by the company, as trash is collected by the city, she said.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508

or skelleher@seattletimes.com

On Twitter @susankelleher

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