Waste Management not budging in labor dispute

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on July 31, 2012 at 6:10 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 31 at 10:36 PM

SEATTLE -- The strike by garbage and recycling drivers appeared no closer to resolution Tuesday as drivers in Skagit and Snohomish counties joined the walkout and Waste Management said it is beginning to screen and hire replacement drivers.

"Our job is to provide services to communities throughout the Puget Sound, and that's what we're going to do, and that's going to take replacement drivers," said Robin Freedman, spokesperson for Waste Management.

"We want our drivers to come back to work, but they've left us no choice," she said.

Those hires "could very well be permanent," Freedman said. "We have a fair and generous compensation package on the table. it's $98,000 in the sixth year of the contract in total compensation. ... Union membership should urge their leadership to let them vote on it."

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Earlier in the day Tuesday, the strike spread further north. Drivers at the Burlington facility said they would honor the picket lines by drivers in the Seattle area. Teamsters Local 117 said about 35 garbage, yard waste and recycle haulers represented by Local 231 are refusing to cross the picket line. That will affect customers in north Snohomish and Skagit counties.

"We are acting in solidarity with our Teamster brothers and sisters at Local 117 to send a clear message to Waste Management to return to the bargaining table immediately," said Leonard Kelley, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 231.

Any replacement drivers would join substitute drivers that Waste Management has brought into the region since the weekend. Substitutes who arrived at the South Seattle Waste Management facility on Tuesday were met with a loud, angry response by picketers yelling “You dirty scabs,” and “You should be ashamed.”

As trucks driven by the substitute drivers left the yard Tuesday morning, picketers chased them down the street.

The union sponsored a robo-call campaign to area customers warning them that Waste Management was importing inexperienced drivers who could pose a threat to public safety.

“Waste Management is putting us on the brink of what I would call a public health crisis if you keep having garbage pile up like that,” said Teamsters Local 117 spokesperson Brenda Wiest. “They need to figure it out or come back to the table so our guys can get the job done because we know our guys can.”

Wednesday brings a major deadline for Waste Management. Seattle and other cities have said they will impose fines on the company if service is not restored. The penalties from Seattle alone could total $1.25 million per day, the Public Utilities Commission said last week.

The strike began with a walkout by about 150 recycling and yard waste truck drivers represented by Local 117. Garbage truck drivers represented by Teamsters 174 won't cross the picket lines.

Waste Management's contract with Local 117 expired at the end of May. The union wants to close a gap of about $9 an hour between the pay of its recycling truck drivers and the garbage truck drivers of Local 174.

Waste Management is offering a six-year deal it says would raise average salaries from $58,000 to $68,000 a year. If benefits are included, the offer is worth $98,000 a year to a driver at the end of the sixth year, the company said.

Are replacement drivers legal?

According to a New York Times article from earlier this year, "Federal law allows employers to hire such workers during a lockout, although they cannot permanently replace regular employees. Employers can pay the replacements lower wages."

It will be up to the National Labor Relations Board to determine the root cause of the strike. If it was solely over economic issues, some of the Teamsters could find themselves without a job. If, however, the NLRB rules that an unfair labor practice was an underlying factor in the walk out, the union workers would have to be put back in their jobs. 

The issue of replacement workers has been a sore point for unions since the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic control workers. Labor analysts see strikes as the single greatest weapon a union has in a fight with a company. The ability to hire replacement workers, labor argues, in effect nullifies a union's threat to strike.

What customers need to know

On Tuesday afternoon, Seattle Public Utilities said customers in the city who are scheduled for a Wednesday collection by Waste Management should put their cans and bins out this evening, and carts should be left out until 6 p.m. Thursday night. Tuesday customers who did not receive service should wait until next Tuesday (Aug. 7) to place containers out for collection.

The City of Seattle also said it will allow residents limited free dumping at transfer stations starting Wednesday.

Get the complete garbage and recycling pick-up schedule on the Waste Management website or call the customer service center at 1-800-592-9995.

About 220,000 customers are affected by the strike. 

The striking recycle drivers are with Teamsters Local 117, fighting for better salary and benefits in a contract negotiation that has dragged on for months.

Allied Waste customers and the King County Transfer Stations are not affected by the strike. Areas in Seattle served by CleanScapes are also not affected.

Negotiation updates are also posted on the Teamsters Local 117 website, www.seattletrashwatch.org.

KING 5's Jim Forman, Glenn Farley and Natasha Ryan contributed to this report.

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